Jesse describes his pre-teenage self as “the model conservative Jewish young man.” He and his family observed the holidays, went to synagogue, and kept kosher. He and his siblings also attended a Jewish day school until high school. As a teenager, however, he began to slip away from his parents’ ways of feeling Jewish, which mostly revolved around tradition. He stopped keeping kosher. By the time he got to college, he considered himself more of a secular Jew.
“I sort of lost the strong connection I had to Judaism,” he says, somewhat regretfully. “I lost that passion for my people, for what it means to be Jewish.”
After graduating from college, lonely and looking to connect with people, Jesse found the Federation. As a child, he had thought of Federation as an organization for “people who had a lot of money to give and already had a lot of connections,” as he says. He found that the Federation was much more than that. “This isn’t your grandfather’s Federation,” he says.
The Federation sent him on a Birthright trip that rekindled his passion for Judaism. He has since forged a new Jewish identity for himself. “Federation helped me figure out what it meant to me to be Jewish and not necessarily what my parents had envisioned for me growing up.” Of course, he is quick to say, “Without that immense, strong foundation that they gave me, I don’t think I would have reconnected with the Jewish identity I previously had.”
“Now I’m involved with the Federation on a lot of different levels,” he says. Social events, planning, volunteering – you name it, Jesse is there. “I work with teenagers, with the elderly and Holocaust survivors… I meet so many different people that really enrich my own life.”
He emphasizes that his relationship with the Federation is two-way. “It’s really a symbiotic relationship. Any opportunity they can, they help you. It’s almost like a second family.”
For Jesse, the most important thing he had found is his own spiritual path. “When you’re growing up, it’s really about what your parents are shaping for you,” he says. “So it’s up to you to find what makes you passionate as a Jew, and Federation helped me figure that out.”