Over the weekend of July 18 – 20, 39 teenagers gathered for the first-ever Young Judaea Midsummer Leadership Training Seminar at its senior leadership camp, Tel Yehudah, in Barryville, NY. Ranging from ages 14-16 and hailing from New York, New Jersey, Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas, South Carolina, Illinois, Maryland, California and Israel, these teens met for four days to learn and explore what it means to be a leader, gaining valuable skills along the way.
While the program originally had elements about teaching Israel, the current situation posed an unexpected challenge for us and for the teens. Rather than beginning with the usual ice-breakers and get-to-know-you games, we opened the seminar with a special briefing for teens along with many of the other youth organizations also challenged by the current situation. The briefing, with Oren Marmorstein, Minister of Public and Academic Affairs of the Israeli Embassy, gave the teens a different perspective from what they had been getting at camp, both from their counselors and from the news coming into to Tel Yehudah over the past few weeks.
Up for the challenge, the teens processed this information well, and integrated much of it into our planned programming. There were activities about character development, learning about working with children by digging into their own childhoods and learning the philosophy of the great Jewish Polish educator Januscz Korczak. The teens explored group and individual identity with a viewing of the “Breakfast Club”, leared a bit about game theory and planned their own peulot (activities) for a variety of age groups. One morning, we commemorated the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer (when scores of college students headed to Mississippi to assist with voter registration) and the signing of the Civil Rights Act. As socially aware and active Judaeans, we felt that we could not let this important period end without discussing the current status of civil rights in the United States. Of course, we celebrated Shabbat with prayer and reflection and said goodbye to her with song and dance!
The final activity dealt with the situation in Israel, but through the eyes of Judaeans living there and how they are coping with the day-to-day rocket fire and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. We were privileged to have an Israeli with us, who shared her own experiences in her youth movement and how she and her peers handle something no teenager should face.
After the four days, 10 of the participants stayed at Tel Yehudah for second session and the rest went home to finish out their summers. There is no doubt that all of these teens will bring something more home with them and we will see a stronger Young Judaea and a great future for the teens and for YJ.