Rachel Silvestain is a third-generation Denver native who has participated in YAD for 10 years. She has served as Chair of the Ambassadors Program and on the Executive Board. In contrast, Omer Shachar was born in Israel and became involved in YAD relatively recently, after moving to Denver a couple years ago. He has just hosted his first event as a new Ambassador. Recently, they talked with JEWISHcolorado about what their experience with YAD means to them.
How did you initially find YAD?
Rachel: I was involved with BBYO in high school and with Hillel and Chabad in college, so it seemed a natural progression for me to continue being involved in YAD as a young professional. I started with the Chicago Federation’s YAD, and when I moved back to Denver six years ago, I continued with JEWISHcolorado. It is an excellent way for young people to support each other at different stages of their lives.
Omer: I was living in New York City, and like many others, I moved to Denver to be closer to nature. People that I met here told me about different Jewish organizations including YAD. I started coming to events and discovered it’s a great way to meet people and create community in a very comfortable way.
Why did you decide to get more involved with YAD?
Rachel: Initially, the number one reason for me to get involved was the opportunity to socialize. No matter what activity we are doing, there is just something special about being with the Jewish community. I also saw an opportunity for personal and career development through YAD. There was the chance to network with other young professionals and raise my sense of self by being a leader.
Omer: When I moved to Denver, I didn’t know anyone here so meeting new people was a priority for me. With YAD, I found a community of like-minded young people. It’s provided some interesting opportunities for professional networking. And truth be told, when I first got involved with YAD, I had another motive—I was hoping to meet someone to build a long-term relationship with.
Both of you have taken a next step to become part of YAD’s leadership team. That’s a significant commitment. Why did you want to do it?
Rachel: The longer you stay with YAD, the better the chance you have for building long-lasting relationships, and that makes you want to become even more involved. Growing my role into a leadership role reflected my desire to take the program that I enjoyed in my young twenties and help create that for a new generation.
Omer: People helped me when I first moved here and now, as an Ambassador, I can pay it forward. I just hosted a Party of Eight, a dinner where you can have intimate conversations and then afterwards, we join other groups at a bar for socializing. These events give me a chance to connect with even more people and make new friends at the same time I am helping other newcomers. As a leader, you can also be an influencer and drive the organization’s decisions.
In what ways is YAD inclusive?
Omer: To me, it seems the events we do are not about religious practice. They are a way to connect with your Jewish identity and stay involved with Jewish culture. They are welcoming to all people regardless of religious practices.
Rachel: YAD has something for everyone. You will be able to find an event you like because YAD has such a variety of programs—whether it’s a 500-person Shabbat or a 15-person video game tournament. If you try out one of the smaller niche events and then you do go to the large Shabbat, someone will say, “Great seeing you last week! Come sit at my table.” YAD welcomes everyone.
How does YAD fit into the bigger picture at JEWISHcolorado?
Omer: JEWISHcolorado provides space and services to people at every stage of their lives in the Jewish community. Encouraging young adults to get and stay involved is important since people have a lot of life-changing events at this age—finding a partner, getting married, and having children. YAD keeps young professionals in the Jewish community and sets up future leaders.
Rachel: What gets me excited today is that you can see, from the top down, how important YAD is to JEWISHcolorado. YAD provides a path of leadership to JEWISHcolorado leadership. Organizations have to constantly change with the times. What worked five or ten years ago will not work today. By valuing a variety of opinions and taking pride in creating a new generation of leaders, JEWISHcolorado creates a stronger organization.