[by Shiela Steinman Wallace]
When we look at the future of the Jewish community in Louisville and in America, we don’t have to look far to know that our prospects are bright. The leaders of our Jewish community tomorrow are the leaders of our youth groups today.
Sarah Ensign is a prime example. Talk with her for just a few minutes, and you will understand.
A senior at Ballard High, Ensign is BBYO’s Kentucky-Indiana-Ohio regional president, and in that capacity, she was among 60 teens from across the country who to participate in the Big Easy Summit on Environmental Awareness in New Orleans last month. She was also one of eight chosen from that elite group to participate in the Jewish Futures Conference, both of which ran concurrently with the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly. The youth participants were able to attend some GA Sessions.
Ensign described the Jewish Futures Conference as a gathering where the teens had the opportunity to hear how the adult leaders of the Jewish community envision the future and then to join in conversation with them. “One thing BBYO is proud of,” she stated. “We’re not the leaders of tomorrow. We’re the leaders now. We’re very proud to participate in this conference and add the teen voice.”
At the GA, Ensign said Tzipi Livni, the leader of Israel’s Kadima party, had the greatest effect on her. As a female leader, she is a role model with a strong “passion for Israel and a passion for the relationship between Israel and America,” Ensign explained.
For the environmental part of their program, Ensign said, “we took a bus tour of the New Orleans areas affected by the oil spill and Hurricane Katrina.” That was just the starting point. After the tour, the teens divided into teams and descended on the lower ninth ward, the portion of the city hit hardest by Katrina and still far from full recovery.
“My team cleared a lot for a home,” she continued. “We would find toys and shoes – it was a demolished house that was overgrown.” This challenging physical labor was meaningful for Ensign, “knowing that we were making a difference and providing a home for somebody.”
The total experience “gave me a feeling that the future of the Jewish community is fine,” she observed. “As long as we have passionate leaders, Israel will survive and Jewish communities throughout North America will survive as well.”
Ensign also had some advice for parents: “Push your children to be involved. My parents pushed me, and I’ve gained so much. … By getting [your children] involved in any Jewish youth group – BBYO, NFTY, USY – you’re ensuring that they will have a special relationship with Judaism.”
For Ensign, the GA was evening more meaningful because her entire family participated. Her brother Daniel was there with Hillel, and her parents, Jim and Julie Ensign, were delegates from Louisville. “It was a cool experience knowing that my whole family was there, and they are so passionate,” she said.
The BBYO program was subsidized by Panim el Panim.
Ensign has been a BBYO leader in Louisville throughout her high school years. Prior to her election as regional president, she served as the Jay Levine BBG (B’nai B’rith Girls) Chapter’s mazkira (secretary) and n’siah (president). She planned many activities, including two conventions and attended an International BBYO Convention in Texas and a leadership meeting in Washington, DC.
Locally, her efforts have not gone unnoticed. She was the 2009 recipient of the Stacy Marks Nisenbaum Award, which enabled her to spend three weeks on the International Leadership Seminar in Israel last summer; and she was the 2010 recipient of the Joseph Fink Award, which includes a college scholarship.