I have grown up with Young Judaea in my life but not the way all my friends did. They have clubs and year round programs with overnights and events, I had nothing but summer camp and an occasional convention all the way across the country. I had nothing I could drive down the street to participate in. Living through the experiences of my friends and my mother was the only way I could feel like I was a part of more than just the summer components of Young Judaea because there is so much more they have to offer that I haven’t been able to partake in. With all of that in mind an idea struck. It wasn’t necessarily my idea alone. My mom would tell me about how Young Judaea once existed in Phoenix but it disappeared with CYJ West. I waited until I was old enough and could take more responsibilities and more action and I started my very own Young Judaea club in metropolitan Phoenix. I want to give kids in my area the chance to be a part of this life altering youth organization that is all about zionism, peer leadership, pluralism, Jewish identity, and social action. Around here all most kids know is NFTY and BBYO. Young Judaea doesn’t have a voice here. That’s why it was so important to me to bring YJ back to the valley so it can thrive again like it once did.
Going to TY for the first time was extremely scary. I was one of probably 20 midwesties in a camp full of almost 500 people. It was hard at first. TY had new traditions, new types of people, a new atmosphere. While it took a while to get used to, I am now pleased to say that Tel Yehudah is my home. I have made some of my favorite memories and dearest friends in my two short summers spent there. After my Yachad year, I thought no other summer could top it. I had a chug (a portion of your eidah that you spent most of your time with) filled with crazy Miami boys and the sweetest Northeast and Texas girls. I consider most of them still some of my closest friends today. However I proved myself wrong by enjoying my next summer more. Hadracha was the most life changing summer of my life, and I truly feel like a new person coming out of it. I have never felt such a strong sense of community with so many different people in such a short amount of time. Yachad was great to get really close with select people, while everyone bonded with everyone in Hadracha. There are people I met this summer whom I would never have thought I could get along with who I consider family. And that’s the best part about TY: meeting and bonding with new people and experiencing their camp life. Tel Yehudah has changed my life in the most incredible way possible; in a way only Young Judaea can.
The theme for the Pittsburgh Shabbaton this year was Israeli Innovations, chosen by the Bogrim leaders of Pittsburgh YJ. These leaders organized astonishing peulot about drip irrigation, waze, and other forms of technology all created in Israel. The leaders, ranging from ninth to twelfth grade, planned breathtaking games and fun discussions, that the kids participated in while learning about innovations that Israel created. The kids even engaged in a tikkun olam program created by one of the Bogrim leaders where they helped make blankets for kids in hospitals. While some kids call the Shabbaton a “day at camp while still at home,” in Pittsburgh YJ, we like to believe that is is even more than that. The Shabbaton is a place for kids of all ages to come together and become a family. Kids from different parts of the city and even different cities become best friends in under 24 hours and bond with people that they will never forget. While the end of the Shabbaton is always sad, it is extremely heartwarming to hear kids discuss how they can not wait to see each other at the next event or even at camp. As Young Judaea our mission is to help kids discover who they are, and the Shabbaton is just one of the amazing ways that kids connect with themselves and with the people around them.
18 Under 18 is a select group of outstanding Jewish teenagers who spent their time working to make the Jewish community in Chicago a better place. Young Judaean Tziona Chernoff was chosen to be honored this year with 17 of her peers.
In Tziona’s application, she wrote about “how the lack of communication between Jewish teens from different sects of Judaism lead to animosity and mistrust, and if we use social media to bridge the gap then we could help solve that issue”. She noted that the orthodox teens grow up with this idea that they need to “fix” or “save” non-religious teens which make them unable to talk to other Jewish teens, then conservative and reform never really communicate with Orthodox so they have misconceptions based on media that lead to mistrust.
She spoke about my love for Young Judaea, and being on regional board, as well as being involved with a religious community like my school. She also focused about hervolunteering in La Ribida Children’s hospital, and spending time with the children there.
From November 30th – December 3rd, 40 teens from the Midwest, with a few guests from the Northeast and Texas, gathered together to have fun with their camp friends, make new memories, and learn more about others and themselves. We talked about communication and connection – the different ways language can be understood and influenced, and the affect it can have on a person. The weekend was full of fun, friends, and education. We had 4 peulot (programs) that were about different aspects of theme, communication and connection, that took place in small discussion groups. We also had SNF, Saturday Night Fun, which was a sports themed party complete with a photobooth, sack races, and more!
“I felt like the weekend was one big success. Being on the Mazkirut (teen board) for the first time was both stressful and fun. I had an amazing experience creating convention, and then when I got there I got to see everyone enjoying it. As someone who hasn’t gone to camp with all of the kids in attendance, it was really cool to meet and bond with the underclassmen who were newer to convention experience at the beginning of the weekend, but came out of it as pros. I was so happy to see that everyone truly enjoyed the weekend experience they had, as did I.” – Melanie Silver, Midwest Pirsum.
“It was a blast leading and participating in this winter convention. I especially loved seeing the bonding moments with the many underclassmen that attended and the upperclassmen. For many 8, 9, and 10th graders, this convention was their first. The upperclassmen attending were eager to show them the ropes through new TY Rikud dances, peulah participation, and just generally spending quality time together. In other words, it was incredible to see our theme of connections and conversation extend beyond the programming.” – Maya Garfinkel, Midwest Mazkira.
“Convention was really fun because I got to see my camp friends and do the camp things that I can’t do during the year, like singing songs and doing rikud. [Convention feels like home because its] returning to the tradition and culture of camp. Like when we all started singing the announcement song, I felt at home with my people. Having a weekend of camp is way better than going to school.” – Mira Strauss, 11th grade
“If I had to describe convention in 3 words it would be hilarious, friendship, and mini tanks [a game played at convention]. I felt at home at convention because I got to be with my best friends and the amazing staff. I was most excited about seeing my camp friends that I haven’t seen in over a year and camp traditions – Shira shketa,rikud, and havdalah.” – Kira Hoffman, 9th grade
Na’or Aaron describes convention as amazing, home, and k’hilah (community). “I felt most at home when we all just sang at once like it was the last time we’d ever sing together and it was amazing. I was most excited about the peulot in general. People should go to Midwest Spring Convention because [Winter Convention] is one of the most amazing experiences I can ever claim to have as my own and I wouldn’t trade it, or the YJ family, for the world. You meet so many amazing people, but yet it feels so small, and everyone’s there just to celebrate camp. There’s this homey/family vibe that everyone flows with that makes it feel like a real family. If you have no real ‘out of family’ family in your life, go to convention and I promise you it won’t let you down.” – Na’or Aaron, 8th grade
Simon Aizenstein describes convention was fun, exciting, and relaxing. He felt at home throughout the weekend because of the people that he was surrounded by. He was most excited about all the activities. He believes that everyone should go to Spring Convention so that everyone can reconnect outside of camp. – Simon Aizenstein, 8th grade
Adira Lunken describes convention as family, excitement, and peulot. She enjoys the fun, loving environment and getting to see all of her best friends. She thinks that everyone should go to Midwest Spring Convention to get closer to their friends and meet new people. In addition, she thinks everyone should go to have an amazing weekend! – Adira Lunken, 10th grade
“Three words I’d use to describe Winter Convention are ‘Best Weekend Ever.’ The thing that made me feel at home was the friends I made from past convention, but also the small convention body size which made everything feel even more home-like. The thing that made me most excited was reuniting with my best friends and meeting all new people. [Why should you go to Spring Convention?] Why wouldn’t you go to Spring [convention]? See your friends, meet up before camp, sit through asepha (elections), and just chill with people who love YJ just as much as you!” – Tania Blanga, 12th grade, YJ Texas
Rebecca is in her second stint (and fourth year) as the Senior Advisor to the Midwest Mazkirut. Born and raised in Skokie, she was fortunate enough to attend Solomon Schecter where she gained the invaluable basis for her love of the Hebrew language and Jewish education. If that wasn’t enough, Rebecca was dedicated to Young Judaea as a child and a teen, participating in local activities and serving as a teen on the Midwest Regional Mazkirut. She also attended Camp Young Judaea Midwest, Tel Yehudah (the teen leadership camp of Young Judaea), participated in Young Judaea’s Machon in Israel and was a staff member at CYJ Midwest.
Her love for Hebrew grew and she decided to pursue mastering the language academically because of her strong connection to the very words and history of Hebrew. After attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, focusing on Jewish Studies, Hebrew Language and Semitic Studies, and Middle Eastern Studies, Rebecca decided that Experiential Jewish Education was her calling. After graduating and then serving as the Assistant Director of programming and Logistics at Camp Shalom (day camp) in Madison, she jumped into the role of Engagement Associate at the Hillel at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Studying abroad at the Spring in Jerusalem program at Hebrew University, where, among other things, she studied Hebrew with Israeli students, was a transformative experience for Rebecca and she realized she wanted to help students on a larger scale. Beyond Israel, thousands of Jewish students study abroad throughout the world and there are unlimited opportunities for them to have Jewish enriching experiences. In her current role at KAHAL: Your Jewish Home Abroad, a Jewish non-for profit start-up based in Chicago, Rebecca Schwab is the Campus Operations Director and handles all aspects of KAHAL campus recruitment, student engagement, reintegration efforts, strategic marketing throughout the United States. Throughout her work in the Jewish world, Rebecca is committed to the Jewish people and inspiring other to make the difference we all want to see in this world. Rebecca’s favorite time of the year is Winter and Spring Convention with Young Judaea!