Temple Jeremiah’s Teen Service Trip to Costa Rica
By Naomi Segal, Youth and Family Engagement Director at Temple Jeremiah
Last week, I traveled with ten incredible teenagers from Temple Jeremiah, a Reform Jewish congregation in Northfield, Illinois, to Costa Rica for a weeklong service trip. Our trip was centered around Jewish values, including tzedek (Hebrew for justice) and kehillah (Hebrew for community).
For one week, our group lived in Pozo Azul, a small community populated by around 100 families. Although we were only in Pozo Azul for one week, we were able to develop impactful relationships with the local families due to the small size of the community and their warm hospitality and appreciation. Our primary service projects included re-paving sidewalks, building speed bumps on the main road, and painting the exterior walls and gate to the Pozo Azul cemetery. While these projects were exhausting at times—especially when we had to mix the cement—the experience left us feeling empowered, and it served as a great opportunity for us to become part of the Pozo Azul community and strengthen our Jewish identities.
We also did a variety of cultural activities ranging from visiting a local cattle farm, watching the Costa Rica vs. Serbia World Cup game, making empanadas, hiking to a hot spring, teaching at the elementary school, playing fútbol with local kids, swimming in the Pacific Ocean, and dancing at our bienvenida (welcome party). A highlight for many on the trip was our day excursion to Monteverde, also known as the Cloud Forest. Monteverde is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. We hiked through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and ziplined on the longest zipline in Latin America. It was great to see so many of the teens (and myself) face their fears when we took a leap of faith on the bungee jump at the end. The cultural experiences were unique immersion opportunities to celebrate a different culture, step outside our comfort zones, and create a lifelong appreciation for the Pozo Azul community.
As the Youth and Family Engagement Director at Temple Jeremiah, I spent over a year planning this trip. Seeing how well our group bonded with each other and the Pozo Azul community made the entire planning experience worth it. I loved overhearing the teens singing the “Sh’ma” before lights out or singing “Shabbat Shalom” together while exploring the town of Pozo Azul.
Here are a few snippets from some of the teens’ reflections on the trip:
“Working together and becoming so close with a group of nine other Jewish teens I barely knew reinvigorated my sense of Jewish community. It reminded me how important Jewish communities are and to continue seeking them in my future. Even though all of us are Jews in very different ways, in Pozo Azul, we were connected by this shared trait which made our Jewish identity grow even stronger.” - Jordana Bornstein, recent graduate of Deerfield High School and incoming freshman at New York University
“I learned a lot about the power of community during my trip. The people in Pozo Azul all take care of each other and treat each other like family. They welcomed twelve strangers into their homes like it was no big deal. Locals would wave at us on the streets or have a conversation with us at a hot spring. Such small acts of kindness like this made us all feel so welcome and comfortable in Costa Rica.” - Sloane Shabelman, incoming freshman at Glenbrook South High School
“One of my favorite things to do is talk to people, and I just loved to learn about everybody and what makes them who they are. Not only did I enjoy doing this with the group, but I also enjoyed doing this with Don Luis and Nydia (our host family for the week).” - Julia Belian, incoming senior at New Trier High School
You can read more about this incredible trip on their blog online