As a key leader in a number of organizations at Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, it’s hard to imagine that Michael Sacks ever felt left out. After all, the 18-year-old senior is student body president, chapter co-founder and co-president of Future Business Leaders of America, team captain of the speech and debate and mock trial clubs, and business director and opinion editor of the school paper, The Trailblazer.
And yet …
“As an observant Jewish student at a secular school, I often felt as if I was the ‘odd one out’ for keeping kosher, observing Shabbat or missing school on Jewish holidays,” he said.
The answer for Sacks was United Synagogue Youth (USY), the Jewish youth group associated with the Conservative movement for which he now is international president.
“USY provided me with a community of empowerment, one that truly allowed me to become comfortable with my Judaism and with myself,” said Sacks, a former regional vice president and president and international board member.
As president, he travels to the East Coast a few times per year to help set up conferences and communicate with the organization’s leadership. Sacks also serves as representative of six states in the West, including Hawaii, making sure “all operations on a youth level are continuing on a day-to-day basis.”
His personal initiatives at the organization involve connecting USY alumni with present members. Sacks said he is creating an alumni college database of former USY members to help prospective college students navigate the application process. And for two years, he has worked on USY Speaks, which he said “reaches out to every single congregation that has a USY chapter in the country, urging the congregational leadership to afford a past or present USYer [a chance] to speak about his or her experience in USY.”
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Along with his work at USY, the Calabasas resident attended Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, a Jewish summer camp in New York, where he was a counselor-in-training for children with special needs.
An accomplished student, Sacks will attend Harvard in the fall. When he’s older, Sacks wants to work for an institution like the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund. “I always thought those were cool,” he said.
In addition to his keen interest in government, Sacks is passionate about social issues. He is the chapter president of the Human Rights Watch Student Task Force at his school, where he sets up speeches, conducts informational sessions and leads social action campaigns. In 2011, he founded Bridging the Gap, a club that brings in speakers to talk about the Middle East conflict.
Sacks said his ultimate goal in life involves making an impact on the world that extends far beyond the confines of Southern California. “I realize that I have been blessed with opportunity at every step of the way,” he said, “and I hope to make the best of those opportunities.”