They look the same – a group of 67 teens laughing, running, jumping, dancing, and even a bit of flirting. But they don’t always sound the same. Fluent Hebrew and Spanish are sprinkled amongst the English jokes and stories.
In July, the Merage JCC hosted 67 teens—21 from Orange County—and another 47 from Kfar Yona, Israel and Mexico City, Mexico, to a week of SoCal fun. Outings for all 67 included paddle boarding, a pool party, a harbor cruise, a trip to Disneyland and Balboa Island as well as a community service project at Heritage Pointe. But the real fun was in the connections and friendships made. The charge was to have fun and make connections amongst international peers. The goal: the future of the Jewish people.
Research shows that three elements foster teens’ embracing Judaism: being part of a valued community, doing transformative programs, and mentoring by the very best of role-models. The JCC Global Teen Fellows program is at the intersection of all three, giving participants a thrilling experience that they can share with other teens, an opportunity to develop deep relationships and access to a program that is rich with the participation of Jewish role models. In short, the experience left a permanent impression upon all participants, imprinting a love of Judaism into their DNA.
The program began well before the summer. The 67 teens go back four generations sharing the histories of 812 family members from 35 countries. In advance of the week-long encounter, as part of the curricula, the teens interviewed community seniors and wrote up their various stories. They provided a unique view into our communal history. The teens wrote up the interviews, that have been put into a book and gifted to the Historical Society.
By connecting teenagers to our past and future, and to Jews globally, the initiative’s intent is to strengthen each teen’s own Jewish identity, and create Jewish advocates and leaders.
Monica Kibrit de Snaiderman, Secretary of the Executive Committee of the CDI (JCC) in Mexico City, noted that, while teen participants hailed from Mexico, U.S. and Israel, “they learned how their three cultures merge and that they have so much in common, and already are speaking the same language [so to speak].”
Merage JCC Vice President Sam Cohen summarized the initiative’s success, “it was clear the kids went on a journey that transformed their Jewish identity.”
This year was the second year of the project. In 2014, 21 OC teens visited Mexico City for a week-long encounter with their peers. Next summer the JCC expects to send a large group of teens to Kfar Yona, Israel.
The JCC Global Teen Fellows program and collaboration with Kfar Yona and Mexico City grew out of a 2014 JCC Global initiative, Amitim (Fellows). JCC Global is an umbrella organization working with 1,100 JCCs worldwide, building a network of cooperation and support amongst Jewish communities and fostering Jewish peoplehood. Amitim, a three-year initiative, aims to develop meaningful, innovative, and long-lasting connections among Jews throughout the Jewish world.
“We are thrilled and honored to be part of this amazing program on behalf of the Merage JCC and our community. There are many potential benefits in finding common ground and a common agenda among Jews who live far apart from one another—among them, the continued existence of the Jewish people as a thriving, collective entity,” says Wendy Stark, Merage JCC board member.
JCC Global Teen Fellows wouldn’t happen without the generous support from the Jewish Federation & Family Services, Jewish Community Foundation and Doris Chasin.