Zoe Cook-Nadel said she was inspired by all parts of the four-week trip she took to Poland and Israel this past summer, but it was one moment — in a synagogue in Cracow — that glowed brightest in her memory and inspired her award-winning essay.
The trip was the annual Israel Pilgrimage/Poland Seminar hosted by United Synagogue Youth; the essay (see box) was her entry in an international USY contest that invites participants to describe their trip in a video or in writing.
The essay — recalling the “unbelievable” experience of hearing her own grandfather’s composition sung in a Cracow synagogue — beat out over 50 entrants, winning its author a $250 scholarship toward the cost of attending the next international USY convention, in New Orleans.
The 17-year-old senior at Jonathan Dayton High School in Springfield is the daughter of Andrea Cook and Cantor Richard Nadel, cantor emeritus at Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael, the Conservative congregation in Springfield where the family are members. Zoe, the youngest of four siblings, joined SPRUSY, the Hagalil Region USY chapter based there, three years ago, just before starting high school. She served as president last year, and this year is its copresident. She is passionate about the organization and said the trip was a turning point in her life.
“I found my Jewish identity this summer,” she told NJ Jewish News. And, she added, “I think USY is an experience any Jewish teenager would definitely benefit from.”