It’s hard to believe that three weeks ago, we were 36 strangers, waiting anxiously for our summer to begin. Since then, we’ve come so far, and accomplished so much! This morning, we were sad to say l’hitra’ot (see you later) to our Session I teens, as they headed home, and our Full Summer teens boarded a train to Washington, DC, for a weekend of social justice learning and advocacy at the Religious Action Center. Let’s a take a look back at this week in review…
Despite being the last few days for part of our group, our community has continued to have yet another strong week. We started with a leadership program, led by Jeffery Kagan, a local youthworker and URJ camp faculty member with a long history with UMC. In his program, our teens worked together to build the tallest freestanding structure they could out of pretzels, marshmallows, and gum drops. Throughout the program the teens observed the different leadership styles and what it takes to work together. All of the teens seemed to really enjoy the program, and walked away from it with even more insight into themselves, and their community.
The following day, we were fortunate to have another really amazing evening. As per UMC tradition, Detective Dave D’Amico, of the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, led a program that focused on the origin and prevention of bias and hate crimes in the United States. The presentation really opened the eyes of a lot of our teens and helped them realize that by preventing a bias comment, or standing up for someone that is the victim of a bias comment, our teens were capable of changing the world. After the program, many of the teens spoke up and proclaimed this as their favorite program of the summer so far!
Wednesday was a fun filled day, followed by a visiting night with family and friends. It was really great to see Urban Mitzvah Corps alumni, friends from home and the surrounding NFTY regions, as well as family heading towards our favorite local hotspots, such as Stuff Yer Face and Thomas Sweets. What a fun illustration of the magic this program has l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. To conclude the evening, our teens came together as a community and spoke about how much they loved UMC, and how much they’ve been changed for the better. Overall, it was a great day!
One of the themes that we find in this week’s Torah portion V’etchana (Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11) is about never giving up. Sometimes things may seem like they aren’t worth it, like the best option is to just throw in the towel. But the Torah teaches us that even then, we should hang on; the teens paralleled this concept to Finding Nemo’s character Dori, when she repeats, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming!” In this parasha, Moses asked God to let him move into the land of Israel with the rest of the Jewish people. Even though God had already told him that the answer was no, Moses didn’t give up. He kept on praying and praying, believing that God is very merciful and might still let him in. As a Jewish people we are taught never to give up, and even when things look hopeless, we should still try to do what we can, and know that God can, and may, help us at the last moment.
This is the same theme we try to keep up though out UMC, to never give up, and fight for the rights of yourself and others. If something doesn’t work after your first try, look for a different outlet, a different path to go down to make it work. As we end our time with some of our teens, we challenge them to think outside the box. Not to go back to the same old routine they had when they left, but to create new paths that will take what they have done here and bring it home. Don’t let the word “no” stop you from completing the goals you have set for yourself, or from being who you are. We hope that UMC has shaken your world, and taught you that you don’t have to accept things the way they are. As Detective D’Amico said, “We aren’t looking for you to change the world, we are looking for you to change your world.”
Yesterday, our final day of the session, was one of the best days we have had so far. All of our teens put in a great last day of work, and said their final goodbyes at each of the job sites. Once the teens were home, they received their UMC t-shirts, took a group photo, and headed to dinner at the Elijah’s Promise group’s favorite restaurant, Hansel and Griddle. Once back at the house, we brought the entire UMC experience full circle, and together concluded what has been an absolutely incredible first session!
Bryan, Ilysa, Matt, Shifra, Alexa Maltby, Alexa Broida, and Jonah