The power of saying Yes!

Erin Dodo

Voice of our Youth By Erin Dodo

I didn’t go to a Jewish day school growing up, but I have found myself more immersed in Jewish life than I would have had I gone to a Jewish day school. The reason for this: I didn’t grow up having easy access to Jewish education.

I also didn’t go to Jewish summer camp – which is something I wish I had experienced. 

I recall how I felt when I got to university in 2021: hungry for more Jewish learning, more involvement, more experience. This motivated me to seek out the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS) in Cape Town. Whilst it was well established in Gauteng, it had lost its footing in the Western Cape as a result of Covid, and no longer held the same influence on campus as previously. 

Craving a stronger Jewish identity and immersion in my culture, I decided to take it upon myself to bring SAUJS Western Cape back. By 2022, I was Chairperson of SAUJS Western Cape – and I was terrified. I had never led a society, let alone a Jewish student organisation. I didn’t know how to do it – but I was determined to make a difference and enhance Jewish pride at UCT, so I seized the opportunity for this incredible lesson. 

A few months in, I was asked by the SAUJS National Body to represent SAUJS at the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Global Forum in New York. I was surprised and delighted to be given such an incredible experience, especially since, after coming to UCT with very little experience in Jewish life, I could make it to New York on the team representing South African Jewry. 

When I got back, I was desperate for more. Desperate to engage, to learn, to grow. I decided that I wanted to get onto the Student Representative Council (SRC) – a greater challenge than anything I’d ever done before. To get there, I took every opportunity to attend any talk, with every political party, creating alliances with whoever was willing to engage with me. 

I pushed and pushed and was eventually elected onto the SRC, and proudly held the position as Deputy Secretary General of the UCT SRC for the better part of the next year. Although I didn’t finish my term, I still see it as a success since I understood that there was more for me beyond the SRC, and that I was not growing in that role as much as I could in another. 

By the time I left the SRC I had applied to the incredible Lauder Fellowship – an experience that has truly changed my life. I first found out about the Fellowship at my first year of Global Forum in New York, and by then I already understood that being a part of this would be a life-changing experience – and it truly has been. In my time as a Lauder Fellow, I’ve travelled to New York, Orlando, Belgium and Switzerland. I’ve spoken to UN ambassadors, NATO leaders and EU spokespersons. I’ve had a seat at tables I didn’t even know existed. 

In my second year at AJC Global Forum in Tel Aviv, I decided to apply to the AJC Campus Global Board – another exceptional opportunity that led me to where I am now: speaking at my 3rd Global Forum on a panel on antisemitism on campus in Washington D.C., preparing for my Summer Internship as a Goldman Fellow in the Office of the CEO, as Ted Deutch’s summer intern.

I got to where I am now by saying “Yes” to every opportunity offered to me. So often, we are hesitant to take risks, fearing the unknown or doubting our capabilities. But embracing these opportunities, no matter how daunting they may seem, is essential for growth and discovery.

Through my journey, I’ve learned that seizing the moment can lead to unimaginable experiences and personal development. Whether it was revitalising SAUJS Western Cape, representing Jewish students at international forums, or engaging with global leaders, each step was a leap of faith that paid off immensely.

Looking back, I realise that these opportunities were not just milestones but transformative experiences that shaped my identity and aspirations. They taught me the importance of stepping out of my comfort zone and the power of resilience and determination.

As I continue my journey, I remain committed to embracing the opportunities that come my way, with gratitude and humility. These experiences have taken me to phenomenal places, and have given me the chance to make a difference. That is the power of saying “Yes”.

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