Teens choose Jewish summers

by | Aug 16, 2012 | Uncategorized

For some of Tidewater’s Jewish teens, the summer was an opportunity to immerse themselves in Jewish worlds…focused on Judaism, performing mitzvot, exploring their Jewish identity. And, along the way, they all seemed to have incredible, meaningful and fun experiences. Here are a few of their stories:

Skylar Arias
Program/Camp: Mitzvah Corps, New Orleans, La.
Affiliation: North American Federation of Temple Youth
“Why are you here?” That’s what we were asked on the first day of work in the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans. I was taken back for a moment, not because of how frank the question was, but how I couldn’t answer it. It wasn’t until I returned home when I finally figured it out. I had joined Mitzvah Corps confident I wanted to take part in helping people in need. Though what I didn’t realize was that I would also be helping myself. Sometimes life can be overwhelming, and it’s hard to remember who you are when so many people are trying to make you someone else, and in taking this trip I was working to create me.

Between building homes for Habitat for Humanity/St. Bernard’s Project, working in food banks, and volunteering at local schools and synagogues, you’d think there wouldn’t be time to breathe! But somehow we managed to find time to relax and have fun. We experienced New Orleans at its best, (after working to clean up its worse parts). And the friendships continued to grow stronger every day. We lived together, worked together, and laughed together. The people I shared this experience with will forever have a place in my heart.

Two weeks seemed so long when it was only day one, but with a busy schedule and amazing people around it flew by. And now when I look back, I recall indescribable feelings. They came at a moment like when I played with the kids at the lower 9th ward community center, or when I met the dad whose family would be living in the house I helped build. Those moments, the way those people lived, changed the way I carry myself and made me realize what’s really important in life.

Brenna at ShabbatBrenna Becker
Program/Camp: CLTC 3, Mukwanago, Wisc.
Affiliation: B’nai Brith Youth Organization
Every day we’d get up, eat, daven, attend a morning leadership session, have lunch and then go to an afternoon leadership session. We had programs after dinner, too.

In the beginning, we were split into different groups. Each group created a mock chapter, elected officers, and planned fund raisers. My group raised money for Alby’s Voice (a Leukemia Fighter’s Fund) by planning a silent auction.

We learned how to work together as a team—to communicate and make decisions together. We also learned about social media, more about the history of BBYO and got inducted on an international level.

My favorite part was meeting other Jewish kids my age. Having that background in common made the friendships come so easily, like we had known each other forever. It was really hard to say goodbye. We’re constantly in touch now and talk about which programs we want to do together next summer.

Madeline BudmanMadeline Budman
Program/Camp: Kutz Camp, Warwick, N.Y.
Affiliation: North American Federation of Temple Youth
This summer, I attended Kutz: NFTY’s Campus for Reform Jewish Teens.

Every day, I attended the Temple Youth Group Leadership major for three hours and gained the tools I need to make OSTY, Ohef Sholom Temple’s Youth Group, the best it can possibly be, as well as learned valuable life lessons. Afterwards, I took fun classes that ranged from basic conversational Hebrew and how to write an evening tefilah service to hiking, cloud watching, improv, yoga and meditation, and even how to properly maintain curly Jewish hair. Every evening we attended meaningful and thought-provoking all-camp programs about topics such as pluralism, the history of the Reform movement, the Campaign for Youth Engagement, mental health, bullying, love, and more. I prayed in beautiful services every day of the week and explored my personal connection to God and Judaism and the community around me.

We also had plenty of time to socialize, from meals and breaks to over two hours of free time every single day. I lived in a cabin with 14 other girls who soon became my sisters. I made best friends with people as far away as Los Angeles and Washington state and as close as Baltimore and even Virginia Beach. Every day I laughed harder than I thought was physically possible. I was surrounded by 200 of the most wonderful teenagers I have ever met. My peers at Kutz give me hope for the future of the Reform movement, as well as for every community they will be a part of.

It’s safe to say that in these 27 days, I learned more about leadership and Judaism and myself than I learn in an entire year of school. I would say that based on my experience at Kutz, I am a different person than when I arrived at the Kutz gates at the beginning of the summer.

Elli FriedmanElli Friedman
Program/Camp: International Kallah, Camp Perlman, Lake Como, Pa.
Affiliation: B’nai Brith Youth Organization
This summer I attended BBYO’s International Leadership Training Conference and International Kallah summer programs both held at B’nai B’rith Camp Perlman in Lake Como, Pa.

Over those five weeks I had some of the most memorable experiences of my life. I made friends from all over the country and the world.

At Kallah, which focuses on Jewish identity, I learned a lot about myself and who I want to be in the Jewish world. At ILTC, I learned a lot about being a leader in BBYO. I developed leadership skills to use with my chapter, council and region.

Overall, this was one of the best summers of my life.

ben klebanoffBen Klebanoff
Program/Camp: CLTC 3, Mukwanago, Wisc.
Affiliation: B’nai Brith Youth Organization
The Chapter Leadership Training Convention hosted in Mukwanago, Wisc. or better known as CLTC, is the program I chose to go on this summer through BBYO.

I went to the program in hope of gaining leadership experience that I could bring home to my chapter and to hold in my life in general, but other than that, I was not exactly sure what to expect. I was constantly told by the members who went on the program before me that I would learn so much and create friendships which would last for the rest of my life. I thought they were exaggerating, but now after having gone to CLTC, I know the feeling they are trying to express.

CLTC was amazing! I learned so much, ranging from leadership and public speaking to learning about other people’s lives. I have never been somewhere so positive, where everyone is confident to be in there own skin and I am thankful that I had the chance to have the unique experience CLTC has to offer.

impact boston site groupHallie Schulwolf
Program: Impact Boston
Affiliation: B’nai Brith Youth Organization
On our very first night at Brandeis University, the staff of Impact Boston shared the following message with us, “Even though you may have come here in hopes of impacting others, you are the ones who will be impacted.”

Each Impact Boston participant was assigned a service group where he or she would perform community service every morning. Each afternoon we’d gather back on campus to reflect on our time at our sites, listen to speakers, and take certain passages from the Torah and compare them to what we were doing out in the world. At night we had various activities, ranging from venturing to different parts of Boston, to configuring ways on how to better our world.

For two weeks, I volunteered at the Elliot Heritage House. There are various Elliot Houses throughout Massachusetts that assist the elderly by aiding as housing facilities for people with mental illnesses. The house where I worked assisted patients who suffer from mental illness such as schizophrenia and depression. Many of the residents had been institutionalized for 30 or more years.

Our task was to build a fish tank for the residents.

I must confess it was hard to interact with the residents, as they were not used to having outside visitors and many were still dealing with living with mental illnesses.

Impact Boston gave me confidence to realize that my efforts matter. Whether it is constructing some form of beauty to help brighten someone else’s dark world, even for a moment, or educating others to be more tolerant, every small step each of us takes will eventually make a greater difference.

Adam Zelenka
Program: JCC Summer Camp
Affiliation: Simon Family JCC
This summer, my most significant Jewish experience has been volunteering at the JCC Summer Camp as Counselor in Leadership Training.

I have participated in this program for many years, and each year has been quite different from the others. On a typical day, I would arrive at camp at around 9 am and help supervise the campers’ game of gaga (an Israeli sport similar to dodge ball), before officially starting the day with “Boker Tov,” a camp-wide morning gathering that has always been a part of a JCC camp day. From there, I was assigned an age group to work with, ranging from two to 10-years old. All the while, the other “CILTs” and I would be planning for a special Shabbat activity at the end of the week.

The experience was at times stressful, but nonetheless it was always worth the stress to see the kids’ smiling faces.