Above: Hailee Grey delivers her outgoing presidential address to over 700 hundred teens Dec. 28 in Baltimore.

East Cobb native Hailee Grey said her year as United Synagogue Youth’s international president was hard but amazing and worthwhile.

Grey, 18, completed her term during the international USY convention in Baltimore in December.

“I think it was a great year. As hard as it was and as much time as it took, definitely while being a college student, was challenging, but it is something that I would never trade. It was a great experience,” Grey said.

She is living in New York, where she is a freshman at List College, the undergraduate school of the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, and is in a joint program with Columbia University. She will earn two bachelor’s degrees when she graduates.

Grey, who grew up at Congregation Etz Chaim, said one of her accomplishments as president was moving the date of the spring board convention, attended by all the international general board members and the regional presidents, from June to March so that all of their projects could start earlier, allowing for a more productive year. Grey hopes her successors continue with a March date to make a lasting difference.

Hailee Grey poses with Rabbi David Levy, the director of teen learning for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, after her farewell speech in Baltimore.

Hailee Grey poses with Rabbi David Levy, the director of teen learning for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, after her farewell speech in Baltimore.

Grey also helped initiate gender-neutral bathrooms at USY’s 65th international convention in December. Teens who identify as transgender also were given the opportunity to be housed with peers who share their gender identity.

Grey set a goal at the beginning of her term that she believes USY teens and the organization as a whole were able to carry through.

“One of my main goals this year was to prove that we, USY, are not just the future, but we are the present and have the ability to make change in our world today,” she said. “I think USYers really heard this message and went out in the community to be more, to follow their dreams and make their passions come to life.”

As immediate past president of USY, Grey now serves on the general board. She will have the opportunity to complete some tasks that she had hoped to tackle as president, as well as reinforce initiatives she helped start. She didn’t disclose specifics but said USY will unveil some projects in the next few months with which she is involved.

Last fall Grey was invited to represent USY in Israel at the Masorti Noam Olami convention, part of the Masorti movement, the worldwide organization of Conservative Judaism.  The Masorti movement operates teen organizations under the Noam name around the world outside North America, where USY is the youth movement.

Grey said the delegates at the convention spoke many languages, so communicating was a challenge. But she said the weekend was productive and inspiring.

“To enable USYers and Noam teens to build relationships and everlasting friendships worldwide is something truly incredible, and I hope this project continues,” Grey said. “During my term as immediate  past president on USY’s international general board, I hope to put efforts toward this project and help the international web of Conservative Judaism, and specifically the experiences of Conservative Jewish teenagers, really grow and form into something substantial that we can all learn from and enjoy for years to come.”

As with most leadership roles, her presidency taught her many lessons. Grey said she learned the importance of teamwork and supporting others.

“One important thing that I learned was that a leader is not always someone who is always in the front of a room, but someone who is there to back up your ideas, back up your board and back up whoever needs to be in the front of the room at that point,” she said. “Giving my support to anyone who needs it at that point was something that I found to be really important.”

Photos by Jackson Krule for USY

Teen Coalition Still Developing

One innovative event Hailee Grey participated in during her presidency was the Coalition of Jewish Teens, a gathering of leaders from all of the national Jewish youth movements held in Atlanta last February in connection with the international conventions of BBYO and the North American Federation of Temple Youth.

Grey helped present a united declaration that BBYO, NFTY, USY, the Orthodox Union’s NCSY and Young Judaea would strive to work together to ensure a strong Jewish future.

“I think the goal behind the Coalition of Jewish Teens is something that is really important and that every Jewish teen needs to be involved in something,” Grey said. “Finding Judaism on your own, as a teenager, is really important. They’re still in the beginning phases of the coalition, and I hope it gets off to where it is making a lasting impact.”

Elyse Goldberg, a spokeswoman for BBYO, said the nondenominational youth movement will welcome representatives from the other organizations at its international convention in Baltimore next month. “While there currently isn’t a full-fledged program planned for the group the way there was last year, they will be taking part in various pieces of the IC programming to continue the goal of working together toward a united, strong Jewish future,” Goldberg said.

Grey said it will be up to the 2016 USY officers to participate at the BBYO gathering.