Exit Blog: Brittany Ritell
We spoke with Brittany Ritell, UJIA Scotland Youth Programmes Coordinator, as she moves on to pastures anew!
by Brittany Ritell
Tell us your personal UJIA journey: How and when did you first get involved with UJIA?
Being from the US, my UJIA journey really started when I took on this role. I had actually never even been to the UK before my interview for the Scotland Youth Worker job. I had a friend from uni that knew someone who worked at UJIA so they introduced me to Josh Dubell who I had a quick Skype call with to talk about the organisation and the UK in general, so he was my first contact point within UJIA. In theory you could say that I had some small connection with UJIA when I met all the Brits that attend BBYO’s International Convention in the states because UJIA supports all the movements, but that’s kind of a stretch!
When I first arrived, our UJIA Programmes Chair actually hosted me until I could find a flat and get my life sorted out and every time I’ve moved flats, my manager has helped me with getting boxes between places. So it’s also fair to say that our wee Glasgow UJIA treats you like family!
How long have you been at UJIA? And tell us some of the highlights of your time here.
It’s been 3 years, which is wild. My top highlight and one of the most random things I’ve ever gotten to do was when I was asked to represent the Jewish community at Scottish Parliament. They were doing an inquiry on faith-based bullying in public schools and it was decided that as youth worker I could probably give the best information on this subject. So with about a week’s notice I was sitting in parliament being asked questions by MSPs. All these sessions also get livestreamed and recorded so of course my mum was up at some awful early hour in the US to watch me in real time. My grandparents also have a screenshot of me on the SPTV recording printed out and hung in their living room, it’s quite cute.
I’ve somehow also got roped into doing videos about Judaism for BBC’s The Social because I’m one of the few young people that work’s in Scotland’s Jewish Community. That’s been its own adventure of learning to write scripts, get comfortable with thousands of people watching me speak and learning to ignore comment sections as much as possible. I’ll probably keep working on those videos even outside of UJIA since I’m sticking around in the UK, so I look forward to that!
Go into what you think is important for Jewish people in the UK to know.
In Glasgow at least, UJIA provides the majority of Jewish engagement for young people after they leave Calderwood (Jewish Primary School). Without our Bar/Bat Club, Assemblies & Lunch Club, Youth Club, Israel Tour or support of Community Events, there would be a huge gap in Jewish education for those ages 11+ so the work we’re doing to create a strong British Jewry is really vital! Across all of the UK, I think people don’t realise how much Jewish and Israel education UJIA is behind and how many different organisations and events we support.
What’s your best memory of your time at UJIA?
The Glasgow UJIA Poland Trip is definitely a highlight of my time at UJIA. This trip is unique to the Glasgow office but it is one of our best known programme. In 2017, brought a group of fifteen 15-17 year olds to Warsaw and Krakow where we learned about Jewish heritage in Poland, about the Holocaust and we met up with young Jews living in Poland today. It’s a really powerful trip and afterwards a large number of participants decided they wanted to take on bigger roles in the community. Many of them now act as Madrichim either for UJIA programmes or for JLGB in Glasgow.
What advice would you give young Jewish people growing up in the UK?
Go to Israel on something with more independence than Tour or Birthright. Do Tour and Birthright too – they’re great trips – but make sure you get a chance to be in Israel on something more than a sightseeing/highlights tour. Even if it’s a shorter term programme like Onwards Israel (I did Onward when I was 19 and it was the best summer of my life), make sure you get a chance to really live in Israel and explore it on your terms.
What will you miss the most?
I’ll miss the creativity and the kids. In this job, no day looks the same as the last and I’ve loved that aspect and I’m always getting to invent new ways to present Jewish concepts. My days have been filled with clay, legos, paints, games, crafts, cooking and more – it really is a fun job! And then of course I’ll miss the young people I’ve worked with. They’re the best part of the job and you do really care about how they’ll get on when they move up to high school, you wonder where they’ll go off to uni, what kind of adults they’ll grow up to be. Just because you leave the job doesn’t mean you stop caring about their growth!
I’ve been doing youth work in the Jewish community as a professional for four years now, but my first job in the Jewish community was when I was 13 and became a classroom madricha at my local cheder. I’ve worked or volunteered in the Jewish community pretty consistently since then meaning that this is the end of about 12 years in Jewish youth work. The end of an era doesn’t quite cover it!
It’s also, as I joke, “the family business” because my mum and grandma also worked in Jewish education. We’ve all shared ideas with each other and I learned so much from watching them teach when I was growing up. A few weeks ago, I sent my mum a bunch of my sessions on Jewish Identity for her to use in a new class curriculum she’s working on. For the last few years we’ve discussed ideas and helped each other out so it’s strange to be stepping away from work that has not only been a huge part of my life but also my mum and grandma’s.
Thanks so much for everything you’ve done for us and we wish you the best of luck! 🤗