Jaynie Levinson — Connecting Jewish Young Adults
My Own Masada
But I know this mountain.
I know it because my dad used to tell me his father’s story of Masada from over 40 years ago. I can hear him describing how my grandfather was moved to tears when he read aloud the ancient speech Elazar Ben-Yair gave to his people before completing their ultimate protest. I feel it now as I look out at the view.
I focus on the bit of light peeking out from over the sand dunes, growing slowly as I continue to stare. Ben-Yair and the Jews of Masada knew this sunrise, but stared differently than I do now. One day, they looked at the familiar view and knew it was fleeting, for they could no longer bear to face it as slaves. They could no longer allow their children to see a sunrise that gave light to a world their captors would never allow them to know. They had finally had enough and they took control.
It was in that moment as I gazed out at the horizon, that I saw a whole world waiting for me. And I realize now that, in many ways, I have the Jews of Masada to thank for that. For generations, their story has helped provide the Jewish people with a source of strength to overcome those who have sought to destroy us—a people who believe in family, education, and justice. A shared set of values we use to enrich our lives and the lives of others.
I believe in what it means to be Jewish, not just as a religion, but because of what kind of person a Jewish identity asks you to be.
I need to be a part of that.
But let me take a step back for a moment and formally introduce myself.
My name is Emily Gilgoff and I have recently been hired by the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati as the Esther and Maurice Becker Networking and Mentoring Coordinator. I know it’s a bit of a mouthful, but basically my job is to help young Jews become a part of the community here in Cincinnati. I do this by helping them find jobs and develop their careers, with the assistance of JVS Career Services, by acting as a ‘concierge’ to new Cincinnatians, and by pointing people toward opportunities to participate or assisting them in creating new ones. Overall, I attempt to strengthen our Cincinnati Jewish community, in order to help ensure that Judaism sustains.
Personally, I have always felt very in touch with my Jewish culture but —to be honest —I never thought I would end up engaging with it professionally. I was even hesitant to go on Birthright (although that was mostly because I am afraid of flying). But something clicked in my head that morning at the top of Masada. I suddenly felt compelled to do my part in ensuring that our generation and generations to come can find the kind of meaning and fulfillment that my Jewish identity has given me.
Long story short, when I think back about why I took this job, my mind goes all the way back to Masada.
But a lot has happened between then and now. I graduated from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Communication, where I majored in communication and public advocacy and served as a student intern and recruiter for Hillel. I spent the summer of 2015 as Workum Intern with Hebrew Union College, helping with event planning and marketing. I also spent time developing advertising campaigns and outreach initiatives for the English on Stage Theater Company in Tel Aviv, as an Onward Israel intern.
For me, the icing on the cake, so to speak, is that taking this job meant I got to move back to a city that just happens to be experiencing a total renaissance. Although I grew up here (go Aves!), returning after some time away has left me with many of the same exciting and sometimes daunting challenges one may experience when moving to a brand new place. With all of its grand renovations, this city has become basically unrecognizable to me.
I also worried that I would not have the exciting social life that I did in college. Thankfully, the local Jewish community quickly dismantled my fears. The Jewish Cincinnati networks have provided me with a social group that is right at my fingertips and the chance to explore my Jewish identity in a whole new way. I get to help create the community I and other Jews want to live in.
Jewish Cincinnati has so much to offer and it is thrilling to think that my new position will enable me to give to others what has been so graciously given to me.
We don’t all need to be standing at the top of a mountain to feel connected to our Judaism —we can do that right here. There is so much to enjoy in Jewish Cincinnati and I am ready to explore.
If you’re with me, reach out through the Cincy Jews Facebook Page, tweet me @CincyJews, follow me on Instagram, or add me as “Cincy Jews” on Snapchat!