Courageous teenager Carly Feinstein, who grew up at Congregation Or Ami, stepped into the unknown by participating in NFTY and URJ Camp Newman’s Mitzvah Corps to Costa Rica. Or Ami has long placed social justice work at the center of our Jewish communal life. Be inspired, as I was, by her transformative experience:
This summer, along with 17 other teens from California and 1 from Arizona, I traveled to Costa Rica with URJ Camp Newman and Mitzvah Corps. I signed up with my best friend and was very excited but a little nervous. For 11 days, we did service learning work in different communities around the country.
The trip started off in San Francisco. We overnighted at the Westin Airport hotel where we got to know the people in our group, discussed our hopes and fears, and learned about the people of Costa Rica and some of the projects we would be doing. We began building our Kehilah Kedosha (holy community) as we did our first siyum (closing circle) and nightly song session.
The next couple of days were filled with flight delays, layovers, and exhausting travel time. What may seem as a hassle and annoyance to the average traveler, looked to us as not such a bad experience. It gave us more time to hangout with each other and start building relationships. Once we finally arrived in beautiful San José, we were all very excited and relieved. We met our Costa Rican guide, Pedro, and then loaded our bus, as we were all very eager to start our day in our final destination!
Day 4 we drove to the city of La Carpio for our first day of community service work. There, we paved a road for their small town, which was very impoverished and run down. You would think that the people living in such poor conditions would probably be quiet and sad. However, the people of La Carpio couldn’t be more opposite from that. They were so welcoming, funny, and happy. We worked so hard making cement by hand to then pave a road, which was very much needed. We got to meet and know local children and adults hanging in the street. These people have so little but still manage to keep a smile on their face and embrace all that life has to offer.
We spent the next 4-5 days in an eco lodge type community called Yorkin. We lived with the local BriBri people and did work in their village. Our mitzvah work included planting trees, painting buildings, and constructing various facilities. We lived in a big bungalow with no electricity and no hot water. It was a challenge filled with long exhausting days, poring rain and some of the biggest bugs I have ever seen! With that being said, I loved every second. I really enjoyed being pushed out of my comfort zone and learning how to adapt in tough situations.
I learned that you could overcome any obstacle as long as you work together. The people of Costa Rica taught us a lot. Don’t sweat the small stuff. As long as you have food to eat and a place to lay your head down at night, and are surrounded by people who love you, then nothing else matters. By doing mitzvahs, We transformed each other. I made a difference on the lives of others, but they also have made an impact on me and have made me a better person. The dirt, sweat, and the rain all went away, but these memories will stay with me forever.
I am extremely grateful I had the chance to do all kinds of incredible things and learn with the Costa Rican people. Having this once in a lifetime opportunity to not only travel and meet remarkable people, but to give back to a beautiful world that has given so much to me, is so incredibly satisfying.
On this trip I was able to truly be myself. I met a room full of strangers on the first night, but left at the end of the program with best friends! Each night our nightly song sessions became more cohesive so that by that final night, we were singing with pride! It was beautiful to see how we were able to grow our community together. By the end of the trip, we were both a Kehilah Kedosha and a close family. As they say in Costa Rica, Never forget that this life; it is truly a ¡Pura Vida! (Pure Life!)
Transform Your Teen’s Life on Mitzvah Corps
NFTY, the Union for Reform Judaism, and URJ Camp Newman co-sponsor a group of life-changing Mitzvah Corps programs for teens. Check them out for your favorite teenager!