What happens when you take 45 Jewish teens from public
schools across Chicagoland – many of whom don’t know each other – and fly them
to the country’s largest Jewish community for five days of adventure, social action
and Jewish inspiration?
A lot more good than we ever thought possible.
This President’s Day Weekend, Midwest NCSY ran Big Apple
Adventure, a Springboard school break experience that combined sightseeing,
volunteering and celebrating Shabbat in New York. Many of the activities were
in keeping with the trip’s theme, “Be a Hero,” with the teens exploring
Judaism’s take on heroism through education and hands-on experiences.
Lizzie Doman, a freshman at Glenbrook North High School,
said she decided to go on Big Apple Adventure because it sounded like fun and
her friends were going.
Her favorite part? “It’s hard to pick because this trip was
full of exciting things to do,” says Lizzie, who mentions visiting Times
Square, eating “delicious New York pizza,” and packing clothes at Yad Leah for poor
families in Israel, as trip highlights.
For Seth Flynn, a freshman at Oak Park and River Forest High
School, Shabbat was one of the best parts of the trip, with an “amazing” prayer
service, lots of good food, and a “beautiful” and “high energy” Havdalah. He
said he also enjoyed Shabbat guest speaker Jamie Lassner, a volunteer EMT and
first responder at 9/11.
“He was incredibly inspirational,” says Seth. “We then split
into different small groups and got to talk about what it means to be a hero
and how we can all be one.”
Sammy Schwartz, a sophomore at Niles North High School, said
he too enjoyed Shabbat, adding that while it was different than how he
typically spends Shabbat, it was “meaningful and memorable.”
Most of all, Sammy said, he appreciated the opportunity to
make so many friends.
“I came on the trip knowing no one, but I left with a
multitude of new, close friends whom I’m still keeping in touch with,” he says.
“And it showed me that Jewish people are always connected, regardless of their
backgrounds or beliefs.”
Abby Sokol, a freshman from Stevenson High School, shared a
similar sentiment about the sense of Jewish community that the teens created on
Big Apple Adventure, whether while ice skating at Rockefeller Center, shopping
for Shabbat on the streets of Brooklyn, or feeding the hungry at all-kosher
“The most touching part of the trip was when we all got into
a circle to reflect on the experience,” she says. “A few [of the teens] shared
their experiences and how they were changed, which brought some to tears because of all the meaning and
sharing that was done in the safe space and tight community we had created over
Lizzie Doman agrees.
More than Times Square and good pizza and even volunteering, Big Apple
Adventure was, above all else, about being a part of the Jewish community.
“My Jewish ties have been strengthened without a doubt, and
it was meaningful to revisit [Judaism] with a fresh set of eyes and new
concepts,” she says. “I feel it really brought me closer to who I am as a person
and the potential I hold.”