Alice, the Mad-hatter, and the Cheshire Cat were among my best childhood friends. When I was not reading or reciting Alice in Wonderland, I reenacted it, casting myself as Alice, and my stuffed animals as the creatures of wonderland. Eventually, I retired the Daniela in Wonderland production, made some real friends, but still felt that I was reading someone else’s story rather than living my own.
In the summer of 2014, I went to Camp Tel Yehudah, Young Judaea’s national teen leadership camp. It felt like my own wonderland: eccentric creatures shouted, danced and sang in a vaguely familiar language, while I observed them in silent admiration. Each day brought new wonders: heated discussions of controversial topics, kosher food and Hebrew prayers all foreign in my secular Jewish home. I walked down the dirt part of camp absorbing the Hebrew and Judaism, like Alice did Wonderland’s colorful forest.
The day of the color war --also known as Maccabiah, as we called it—was particularly thrilling. I watched campers erupting with energy and team spirit, enthusiastically signing up for the day’s activities. I chose bench painting, prepared to spend my day with paint and brushes, observing the general commotion from a comfortable distance. But just as I finished painting the first layer of my bench, I saw my team captain sprinting toward me. Panting and sweating, he was jabbering something… I soon learned that, he and his co-captains didn’t create a final team song for the closing ceremony. “Please come up with something!” he implored, “and teach it to the rest.” “Teach it to the rest!?” I almost screamed inside. Me, standing in front of the entire team, singing a song I wasn’t even sure I was capable of composing? The Alice inside me whispered to politely decline the request, but another part of me thought letting my team down seemed more embarrassing than making a fool of myself, and the words, “I’ll try”, escaped from somewhere unknown within me.
In the following hours, I summoned the Cheshire Cat with his rhyming abilities, and we managed to finish both the song and the bench. But, at the team meeting, as I staggered to the stage, the Cheshire Cat abandoned me, and I was suddenly left alone with my fear of embarrassment. I yearned to shrink, even disappear, with Alice’s magic potions, but the new sense of responsibility prevailed: no matter how it would end, this adventure would be my own, personal story.
I cleared my voice, politely asked for silence, and soon the crickets were my only audible competition. My presentation didn’t elicit a burst of applause, but inspiration and creative spirit immediately filled the room. Some parts of my song were praised enthusiastically, while others were mercilessly pulled apart and reassembled. Strangely, as my song transformed into our song, I felt my own voice growing stronger. That night, after our performance, the entire camp erupted in applause. As the ovations grew louder, I grew bigger internally, and felt myself escaping my Alice shell. In this moment I realized I wanted to contribute, not observe, and to experience again the indescribable feeling of making an impact in a community.
So, two years later, I became a Maccabiah captain, and after that, an active member of the national teen board of Young Judaea. Alice in Wonderland will always remind me of my childhood, and now, of the day I rallied my courage, discovered my voice, and made the first step towards my journey as a leader. As I prepare for law school, I, again, daydream of Wonderland: with new, unfamiliar characters, and many riddles that await me. But this Wonderland is different than the one I escaped as an introverted child: the characters have human faces, the riddles are real problems, and the magic that will help me get through the doors and step over the obstacles is now inside me.