My Journey to Judaism

6 years ago Leighest 0

Olivia Rubinsky, Palm Springs, CA


This article is an excerpt of a speech that I wrote for the JLI Retreat in Palm Springs.

My name is Olivia Rubinsky; I’m 15 years old.

I am part of an organization called CTeen, which stands for Chabad Teen Network. Since I joined, I feel that my Jewish life has come alive. I’d like to tell you about my journey to Judaism.

I attended elementary school at a Jewish day school in Palm Springs. In my combined grade, there were just three other girls, and it was very hard for me to connect with them. My parents were going through a divorce, so I stopped caring about my Jewish identity. I felt like being Jewish was a bad thing, like it was a sad religion with no fun.

I continued to think and feel this way until last year – when my sister Sasha and I were invited for Shabbat by my Rebbetzin, Chaya Posner. I had never been to a Shabbat dinner that I could remember; I didn’t know what to expect. I showed up in leggings and a tank top. One thing that I learned that night was that we don’t use our phones on Shabbat. It was very hard to stay off my phone for the entire dinner, but Chaya and her family made it a fun experience, and I felt so accomplished when I was able to leave my phone for those few hours.

Fast forward a couple months, and I was lucky to be able to attend the CTeen International Shabbaton in New York. I was so excited to meet people but, at the same time, I wasn’t sure if I was going to fit in. The entire weekend was an experience of a lifetime. I made the greatest friends anyone can ask for, and I learned so much.

Over time I learned more. There was one Shabbat a couple months later that I went over to the Posner’s house for dinner. I walked into the house excitedly and announced to everyone to check out what I was wearing – a dressy shirt and skirt! I felt so good to be dressed for Shabbat! I immediately put my phone away and felt ready and prepared to welcome Shabbat.

Chaya suggested that I become a leader for CTeen, and I became an international leader. Now I was involved in the planning, not just for our local chapter, but also with teens all over the world. We were the ones driving the decisions for teens worldwide. Everything from what color the sweatshirts should be for the international shabbaton in New York, to which weekends were best for other events, and lots in between. My Whatsapp didn’t stop buzzing, as comments would come in all times of the day and night-literally. I was part of a community – an international teen community.

I just returned from the CTeen Heritage Quest, which is an amazing trip to Poland and Israel. As soon as I heard about it, I knew that I wanted to go. I spoke to my parents and my dad was skeptical at first about me going to Israel, but I managed to talk to him so that he would be comfortable to let me go.

I packed my bags and left my family for six weeks… the best six weeks of my life.

Right before Heritage Quest, I attended the CTeen Leadership Retreat. On that Shabbat, I chose my Jewish name, which was something I had wanted to do for a while. The name that resonated with me was Leeba, which means “beloved” and also sounds similar to my name, Olivia. After Shabbat, I excitedly shared this with my mom, and she told me that nothing is a coincidence since that was the name of my great great grandmother, who had escaped the war, and was the sole survivor of her family.

From the Retreat, I headed straight to Heritage Quest, first to Poland for a week and then Israel for two. I visited the graves of many holy people. I also went to the Western Wall, which I thought was going to be much bigger. The second time we went there, it was Shabbat, and it was so cool to see how it got so much bigger in a blink of an eye. Just to see everyone dancing and singing and having a great time was amazing. In Israel, we rode camels, hiked, rappelled down waterfalls, swam, volunteered, and met new people. It was a phenomenal trip and I had a blast.

Being part of CTeen has brought me closer to my Jewish identity. I now see the joy in Judaism and feel proud of what I know. Most importantly, I’m so excited to share with others and make sure they do too. I look forward to see where this journey takes me next.