Originally posted on These and Those, the Pardes Blog
Every summer when I start working with forty reform North American teenagers, I know exactly what is going to happen. I am going to pour my heart and soul into being their mechanechet (educator), taking them through Europe and Israel, into keeping them healthy, and making sure they feel loved. And when they leave five weeks later, to go back to their real lives, I love every single one of them. It never fails. I fall in love and then they leave. And I am left at the airport heartbroken and all alone. For five weeks, twenty-four hours a day, I become their friend, caretaker, sibling, and parent.
So why do it? What can be so important that someone is willing to put themselves through this, and in my case, for the fourth summer in a row?
Maybe it’s watching kids fall in love with Israel, maybe it’s helping them experience their Judaism in a new and different way in the land of their forefathers and foremothers, maybe it’s watching them create friendships with other Jewish teens from across the country, maybe it’s helping them through one of the scariest places on earth: Birkenau-Auschwitz, or maybe it’s bringing them together with Israeli teens who always turn out to be just like them.
Somehow, I think it’s more than all those things. It is seeing them think about hard questions: what does my Judaism mean to me, is this a meaningful experience, is this something that I want to make a part of my life, why is this significant to someone else, but I don’t feel anything… already at fifteen/ sixteen years old these young adults are thinking about real life questions. Would I marry someone who isn’t Jewish? Is it important to me that I raise my children in a Jewish home? What does it mean to be part of the Jewish people/Am Israel? Would I raise my children in a country that has potential rocket fire from hostile neighbors? What does a world without Israel look like?
These are just a small sample of the questions that these teens grapple with over the five weeks. But to me, these questions are worth the sleepless nights, the exhaustion, the emotional roller coaster, and of course, the heartbreak I feel when they go back to the real world with real answers, real opinions, real thoughts, real friends, and real support.
So, while I am home, alone dealing with my broken heart, I know I won’t hesitate when they call me midway through the year to sign my contract for next summer. Bring on the heartache, because for me, the alternative isn’t any option. We must build our future together. We must continue to repair the Jewish world, and every denomination of that world. So thank you Mishpacha/ family/ Group 9 for making it all worthwhile.
By Andrea Wiese