Living as a Jewish teen in a predominately conservative Christian community can be a challenge, particularly when there are few strong Jewish organizations with which to identify. Ruthie experienced this challenge first-hand, and while she loved her Jewish heritage when she was at camp or with her family, at other times, it made her feel like an outsider. Ruthie decided she could lead efforts to strengthen her Jewish community and successfully rallied teens and Jewish leaders to form Gesher BBYO, a chapter of the international BBYO Jewish youth movement. Within six months, Gesher BBYO had 20 enthusiastic members, making it the fastest-growing chapter in the region and earning the group special recognition at BBYO’s International Convention.
The Gesher BBYO chapter already has a full and vibrant slate of programs, social activities, and events –including a large Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, Rosh Hashanah apple picking, and volunteer service with the homeless via The Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network. Through Ruthie’s vision and leadership, teens who previously felt disconnected from Judaism are deeply engaged and no longer feel isolated as Jewish teens. Gesher—literally, “bridge” in Hebrew—has brought together different parts of the town’s Jewish community as teens explore and take pride in their Jewish identity.