LAKE COMO, PENNSYLVANIA
JDC Entwine has a seven-year old partnership with BBYO, the world’s largest pluralistic Jewish teen movement. I, along with 10 of the 23 fellows this year, will be working with BBYO in our respective cities, developing the Jewish youth movement through local, regional and international programming.
For three days in late July, about half of the BBYO fellows gathered in Lake Como, Pennsylvania at the BBYO International Kallah, a summer retreat for high schoolers. Our own programming focused on aspects of leadership that will be especially useful in our work with teens, and we even had the chance to lead a discussion session at the camp about international responsibility, where the teens brainstormed how they could help communities in need around the world. One of the pieces of advice that stuck out to me about such programming was that it’s far more beneficial to err on the side of maturity, because the teens will certainly rise to the occasion. Remembering how it felt to be in high school was more difficult than I anticipated, and this was a reminder that triggered memories of what it felt like to be trusted with serious questions.
I was constantly impressed by the maturity of the BBYO teens and the moral and philosophical questions they were interested in pursuing during learning sessions. One boy spent ten minutes of his free time after a discussion explaining to Becca (the fellow in Copenhagen) and I his text-based theory of why David was not actually an underdog in his fight against Goliath. Yet at other moments, especially during free time, I realized I completely forgot what it felt like to be fifteen and in a place far away from home, living with 200 peers and much-anticipated freedom.
It was certainly an experience to be dropped into the middle of a camp that I did not attend, where I didn’t know the terminology or traditions. During meals, we would each pick a table, sit down, and get to know the teens who chose to spend 3-6 weeks of their summer engaging in Jewish learning and leadership. Remarkably, I was able to play very little Jewish geography, and I expect that the experience as a whole might emulate some of the strangeness of being in a new place that I will surely encounter this coming year.
NEW YORK CITY
Many important things happened at the four-day orientation in New York. I finally received my Finnish work permit, which meant that I could book a flight for the week
following Orientation. I thought I was heading into the field late, but it turns out I was one of the first fellows to arrive at their placement this year. Of course, this made sitting through four days of orientation a bit stressful, as I had already begun mentally packing and preparing.
Although my individual placement may feel quite far away from the organization that sponsored it, it was important and moving for me to hear the stories of the people and families whose lives the JDC has impacted. From airlifting Jews out of Ethiopia to Israel, to providing essential aid to families in the Former Soviet Union or areas like Haiti and Nepal struck by natural disaster, the JDC reaches far and wide in helping Jews–and people–around the world in a variety of circumstances. It was important to know that this fellowship is a part of the same goal.
WASHINGTON DULLES INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT
My last Shabbat dinner at home marked the beginning of a whole list of lasts and another bright string of firsts. It was also my brother’s last weekend at home before he began college, and essentially the last night together before my parents became empty nesters. It’s been a tradition at our Shabbat dinners that everyone say what they are thankful for from the past week, and it seemed that there was no good way to sum everything up and to communicate the excitement I felt.
Standing in the Icelandair line in my puffy down coat, I could see that my bags were each at least twice the size of everyone else’s. But I somehow, miraculously, managed to get them checked. It also seemed somehow fitting that on my first flight I sat next to two construction workers from West Virginia who had never before left the United States. What a world they are about to see, I remembered thinking to myself.
I touched down the first time to a clear, cool night in Keflavík, Iceland, and the second time to a cooler foggy morning in Helsinki. I was incredibly thankful to arrive to a beautiful, furnished apartment (although it was not marked with a number, which provided a temporary roadblock.) A new fluffy blanket was waiting for me, and the first thing I did after running out to buy a towel (and trying for at least 20 minutes to unlock the wrong apartment in the wrong building next door to mine) was take a three-hour nap. After a day of unpacking and a lovely dinner with my field supervisor’s family, I can finally say I’ve settled into my new home in Helsinki.
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