MILWAUKEE – If you ask Jessica Perl a question, the response you’ll receive sounds more like the response of a successful and well-established woman rather than the reply of a 17-year-old teenager. But then again, Jessica isn’t your average teenager.
Perl, a senior at Nicolet High School, serves and has served in several leadership roles over the years, a fact that becomes all too clear with her deliberate and direct energy. She has been a leader in the Conservative group for Jewish youth, USY, or United Synagogue Youth, at the regional and international level, and within her own high school’s student council.
And these leadership roles aren’t short-lived. Perl has been involved in USY for about six years through her synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel Ner Tamid in Glendale. She initially held positions on the MUSY chapter of USY for the Milwaukee area, and now serves as the executive programming vice president for the CHUSY region, which includes Milwaukee, Chicago, Madison and northwest Indiana.
“I help plan all of the events we have, work with the rest of the board and collaborate on different programs that we’re having around here,” said Perl.
Some of these events include CHUSY conventions that are held throughout the year. But leadership by itself isn’t the real reason Perl has been so active in USY.
“I’d like to say that my favorite part about USY is definitely the people,” Perl said. “The reason I keep coming back and the reason it’s so important to me and has been for all these years is because my friends are there.”
A passion for people is what motivates Perl, even outside of the Jewish community. Her involvement in Friendship Circle, a nationwide program that reaches out to children with special needs and disabilities, is also a testament to her concern for others.
As a volunteer, Perl participates in the sub-program, Friends at Home, where she spends time hanging out with Bryan. Volunteers can spend time with special needs children in their homes, playing games, watching movies or just hanging out.
“I hang out with Bryan every week during the year. I’ve visited him, made cookies, colored. Sometimes we just end up hanging out for an hour,” said Perl. “It brightens my day every time.”
While it’s clear that she’s incredibly active both inside and outside of her synagogue, Perl doesn’t plan on slowing down in the future. Instead, she wants to branch out even further into the international community.
“I’m hoping to go and spend 9 months in Israel next year, studying at Hebrew University for one semester, and volunteering in the Negev for the other, on Nativ,” she said.
If her plans to go on the Nativ gap year program don’t work out, don’t worry – Perl has a rather sophisticated backup plan. She noted that she wants to attend the University of Minnesota Twin Cities to double major in international business and supply chain management. These degrees will help her pursue a career in international logistics management, a career that sounds just as mature and refined as Perl herself.
But in the end, her energy and passion still boil down to the people she’s met and worked with.
“I just wanted to say how thankful I am for the Jewish community in Milwaukee for granting me so many amazing experiences,” Perl said, adding, “And CHUSY Region for giving me so many amazing friends that have become family over the past six years.
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The Chronicle is featuring eight Jewish teens who give back to their community – one for each Chanukah candle! Is there a synagogue, community or teen you’d like to recommend for our next Teen Leaders project? Let us know at Chronicle@MilwaukeeJewish.org.