It took Judith Greenbaum 40 long minutes before she finally signed the form to decline acceptance at Harvard. “Yeah, that was a tough one,” Greenbaum, who is graduating from YULA Girls School, said as she laughed, “but it just wasn’t the right choice for my life’s big picture.” Her future hopes center around being an involved mother, leading an active Jewish life and pursuing a career in business. With New York’s Jewish community at her doorstep, Greenbaum believes Columbia University will offer better preparation for the life she envisions, after studying at Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim.
Finding balance is Greenbaum’s constant struggle, while she juggles being co-regional president of NCSY (National Conference of Synagogue Youth), co-captain of YULA’s Model U.N. team, playing on the tennis and soccer teams and writing for the school newspaper. She also maintains top grades and created a campaign to raise awareness about the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. There’s little time to catch up on sleep, even during summer vacations, when she has traveled to Israel on Yad B’Yad’s program for kids with disabilities and participated in NCSY’s overseas JOLT program for Jewish Leadership.
Why does she push herself so hard? “I really just want to get the best out of life. I never want to say I had all of these opportunities and I just blew them,” explains Greenbaum.
The youngest of four kids, Greenbaum is happiest when she feels she’s contributing to the world, which is why she was motivated to act two years ago following a lecture about Shalit, who has been held prisoner by Hamas since June 2006. Greenbaum wrote to Israel’s prime minister, spoke with local consuls, set up a Web site and created a national high school project involving more than 30 schools across the country, writing letters urging efforts for Shalit’s release. She and leaders at the other schools organized rallies and got wrist bracelets donated to raise awareness.
It’s been a journey. Greenbaum started ninth grade unsure of who she was and what she wanted to do, so she tried almost everything, even some things that she wasn’t so great at — she got a non-singing part in the school’s musical. “I can’t sing or dance at all!” she said.
Involvement in NCSY has been a highlight of her high school years. Reveling in Havdalah services and the chance to make friends with all types of people, she summed it up by saying, “I love being Jewish, and I love the fact that I love being Jewish.”
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