Etai Chen-Zion, Shomrei Torah, 11th Grade
HOFW: How have you been a leader in the community?
Etai Chen-Zion: “Ever since I’ve been involved in USY, I have always been able to step up to the plate when someone needs a leader. USY has taught me what it takes to comfortably and successfully lead a group, no matter what the task. I’ve used my skills from USY in places such as Los Angeles Hebrew High School and throughout my temple, whether its being a teacher’s assistant or helping out in the religious school.”
HOFW: After going on Pilgrimage, how would you say impacted the community in Israel?
ECZ: “While on Pilgrimage, I had the opportunity to spend a week in Haifa and while I was there I volunteered at the Gil School for Kids with Special Needs. While there, I had the honor of meeting a wonderful young man named Raphael. Raphael had Cerebral Palsy (a disease that attacks the central nervous system, disallowing the person from having stable control over their movements) and, despite that, he is the happiest kid I know. I was able to bond with him over that week and I got to know him on a very personal level. This may sound weird, but I feel that I made some sort of an impact on his life. It may have just been exchanging smiles and garbled amounts of Hebrew, but I felt that it still made a difference.”
HOFW: Has any social action in your life been especially impactful to you and your personal life?
ECZ: “As some know, I have a cousin named Dylan who was diagnosed with Autism at a very young age. He has been my inspiration for a lot of my contributions to social action. He has been so strong over the past sixteen years and seeing his progression from not being able to speak to being able to type fluently on a letter board has been so meaningful and heartwarming for me and my family. Having someone so close to me who is not able to verbalize his thoughts has shown me what a privilege it is to even have a simple conversation with anyone, including this one. With this understanding, I have been able to connect with programs such as Special Fit (a program to help kids with special needs release their energy through healthy workouts), and Hevrah (a program affiliated with USY for kids with special needs). My quest is to help kids like Dillan and to show people that there is a person there, not just a disability.”
HOFW: What is one strong quality of a leader and how do you embody it?
ECZ: “For me, a strong leader has to be willing to take constructive criticism well, and be able to put it into action, meaning that if someone has an idea that might work better than mine, I won’t shoot it down immediately, I will consider it and weigh the options. This quality is important because it creates a sense of group leadership instead of monarchical rule.”
HOFW: How can others enact social action? Do you have any advice for people wanting to get involved?
ECZ: “My one piece of advice may be something you’ve already heard, but from experiencing it myself, I would recommend going on USY Pilgrimage, whether it’s Poland-Israel, or the trip I went on L’Takayn Olam. While on this trip, I learned what it meant to give back to the community and it can be as simple as donating tzedakah, but every small action counts for something.”