All of our participants arrived safely and on time and we jumped right in to the evening by meeting the teen and adult leaders. We played a few getting to know you games together and welcomed Shabbat with candle lighting and blessings. We enjoyed Shabbat dinner and then moved into services led by our professional song leader, Rachel Mylan. After dinner, we played more games to get to know each other. By the end of the evening, I could see that this group was already making connections and were happy to be together. After our mixers we experienced our first closing friendship circle and learned the NFTY cheer. Then we headed to our host homes for a good night’s sleep.
Saturday began with a special art service. Teens were broken into groups with a high school leader and given a prayer from the service. They read the prayer and figured out how they could represent the prayer visually in a poster. The art work was amazing and the teens enjoyed the alternative Shabbat service. We followed our morning t’fillah with by learning about the Torah portion for the week, Shemini. This is the Torah portion that talks about rules of Kashrut, and what makes something holy. We had some really interesting discussions about how everyone has a different definition of what is holy.
After our program, we rolled up our sleeves for some service projects. The community center we were working with provides much needed services to low-income families, including literacy readiness, a clothes and food pantry for those in need, and gives car seats to families who can’t afford them. Our teens helped clean and organize the food pantry, move and organize hundreds of car seats, cleaned the toys in the tot room, and helped organize the sewing room. In one hour we did work that would have taken the staff months weeks to complete. They were so thankful!
As soon as we were done, we were ready for our second project. Camp Swift is an organization that provides free overnight camp to inner-city children who would not otherwise get the opportunity to go to camp. We helped the camp put on their annual carnival for these kids. Our teens were “counselors” for the day and took smalls groups of kids through the carnival.
It was definitely hard work, but I think for many of our teens this was a highlight of the weekend!
After the “campers” went home, our teens, went home with their host families for dinner and a chance to rest, and our last activity of the day was to meet up again for an evening of bowling! We had a beautiful Havdallah service at the bowling alley, a short friendship circle, and then had a fun evening together!
Sunday morning we reconvened at temple and shared what part of the weekend was the most meaningful for us, and our high school students shared why NFTY has been so important to them. Then it was time for goodbyes. It was amazing to see the teens come together as a community. They went from talking only to friends from their own temples, to having friends from all over the Southwest. It was truly remarkable to watch the transformation throughout the weekend.