Guest Blogger: Rabbi Julia Weisz. Rabbi Weisz took eight teens to Washington DC for the L’taken Social Justice Program, transforming their lives and intensifying Congregation Or Ami’s teen program. Rabbi Weisz writes:
Five years ago, I helped create and implement Or Ami’s first offsite weekend retreat for 4-6th graders. It was a transformative experience seeing so many kids, some of whom had never been away from their parents, blossom into independent and excited campers. After that experience, I knew that I wanted to offer more Jewish offsite opportunities for children and teens alike. The following year, we created a teen retreat offering teens a chance to get to know other teens at the beginning of the year and return to the synagogue with new friends.
The benefits of these offsite retreat experiences go beyond what anyone can imagine. Participants spend time with Jewish peers learning, playing sports, celebrating Shabbat and disconnecting from the pressures and technology in their every day lives. And as a result, participants are fully immersed in experiential Jewish programming that is “cool” and “fun.” Because of the successes of these weekend retreats, we decided to offer high schoolers the opportunity to go way outside of their comfort zones, across the country.
Taking Teens to Washington DC
Last year I took three 10th grade teens to Washington DC for the L’taken Social Justice Program run by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. Teens learn how to impact the political process while sharing their own views on social justice topics with their Representatives and Senators on Capitol Hill.
Although this program brings 400 teens together from synagogues across the country several weekends a year, the focus is not on meeting and spending time with teens from other synagogues. Even with plenty of schmoozing time built into the program, this four-day trip encourages teens to connect within their own community over dinner in Georgetown, late night speech writing and snacking as well as touring the Holocaust Museum and MLK Memorial.
The last day of the trip, I stood in Representative Brad Sherman’s office watching these three teens dressed in suits, who the day before were in sweatshirts and tennis shoes, present on important legislative issues, how these issues impacted them personally and Jewishly. I watched them change overnight into confident and passionate young adults. [Read their lobbying speeches.]
The three teens were so impacted by the L’taken experience they decided to go again this year and encouraged their friends to go. One of these teens reflected,
The experiences in Washington D.C. motivated me to get more involved with my dad as one of the planning commissioners of Calabasas, it gave me a good reason to apply myself more in school, and spiked my interest once again to do this trip next year.
We opened the trip to 10th-12th graders so that more teens would have an opportunity to be a part of this program.
Tripling the Teen Participation on L’taken
A month ago, I boarded a plane with eight very excited and energized 10-12th graders on our way to DC. I smiled thinking about the opportunities these teens would experience with one another. Similarly to last year, these teens returned home with new friends, a better understanding of the legislative process, new insights into Reform Jewish views on topics like, mass incarceration, reproductive rights, stem cell research and disability rights and a yearning to return to Washington DC next year.
One Mom wrote me the day after our return,
[My daughter’s] stories and experiences were magnificent. You have made a happy mom. I truly can’t thank you enough for thinking of her for this. I’m pretty sure she’ll want to go back…. You’ve done a wonderful mitzvah and I have no words to adequately express my gratitude and appreciation.
Send Your Teen on a Temple Trip
I believe so much in the transformative power these offsite trips and retreats have on our children and teens. And so, the trips and retreats will continue and new experiences will be created.
In April, I am taking 8th and 9th graders to explore Jewish San Francisco. If you would like more information on this or any of our others trips, email Rabbi Julia Weisz.