On Friday, August 9th, 2013, our Urban Mitzvah Corps participants prepared and led a community Shabbat service at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick, NJ. Representing 4 URJ camps, 8 NFTY regions, and 21 congregations, each teen, and staff member, chose to contribute to the beautiful service. They songled, wrote readings, led prayers, read Torah, and gave a beautiful d’var torah, and we could not be more proud to share their meaningful reflections on a life changing summer!
Sarah Freyd, Temple Beth Am, Seattle, WA
Liora Silkes, Temple Beth Am, Seattle, WA
Ilysa Cooperman, Staff
Shabbat Shalom It has been an honor and a privilege to work with our UMC teens and staff this summer. I was excited to return for another summer and once again share this experience. I really had very high expectations this summer since the last one was so incredible. What I got was far more than I bargained for, it has completely surpassed anything I could have hoped for. These teens inspire me, they are the reason my heart is so full of love and pride. They are the reason that I strive to make sure there is a safe space for them to express themselves. Their spirit and commitment is something I will take home with me and bring into my own youth group. They are the light that keeps us going all summer. They fan the flame of excitement; whether it is to do service work, Sandy Relief, incredible programming, a Shabbat service or just cooking dinner together. When these things are done with excitement and purpose you really forget you are doing them for others and are just excited to do them together. When people say thank you and in your head you think no thank you for letting us do this for you, you realize that is something special. That is exactly what happened this summer! I found myself thanking the people for letting us into their lives and letting us help them. These teens made what we were doing into such a pleasurable experience that I felt the need to say thank you. Remember the light within you and remember how just a flicker can light the flame of others. The light in our UMC teens shines just as bright if not brighter than the candles we are about to light.
Alexa Maltby, Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, New Brunswick, NJ
I started last summer off thinking I would be at this service just as an ordinary UMC alumnus, not the student coordinator. It is an honor to stand here as the 3rdAnshe Emeth Student Coordinator. It gives me great pride to share Anshe Emeth with my Mitzvah Corps community because it truly combines the best of both worlds. Behind me are my best friends and role models. Every night I go to sleep in awe of what my friends do. It amazes me coming back and not having any of the same experiences. Even the things that I repeated this summer were different. This group brings so much energy and light to every situation that I love to be around them. I had the opportunity to shape this summer, but I didn’t. This group standing behind me truly made this experience unique. It was always a pleasure to work hard for them, never a burden. Sitting behind me are the people that I want to keep around for the rest of my life. Mitzvah Corps has been the best gift I ever received. Being a participant at Bay Area and UMC were so amazing, I thought how could I ever surpass those experiences but I did. Every year as I grow, I appreciate these programs more and more. I’ll never understand how my parents let me go to San Francisco alone 2 summers ago, but I couldn’t be more thankful.
Karen Yakobi, Temple Ahavat Shalom, Northridge, CA
L’cha Dodi is about welcoming the Sabbath, and this reminds me of when I first came here to New Jersey and to UMC. Everyone came to welcome me; well not only me, as there were others, but it really felt like it was just for me because it was the best welcome ever! UMC is a master at welcoming because they accept everything and anything even me. The thing that really made me feel the most welcomed was when my roommate Adina said that we were all family. At first I didn’t believe her, but after only a couple of hours I felt as though I was part of the family. Just like this prayer makes the Sabbath feel welcomed, this UMC family made me feel welcomed.
Sammi Zimmerman, Temple Rodef Shalom, Falls Church, VA
L’cha Dodi is all about welcoming the Sabbath and the age old traditions that come with this. Just like L’cha Dodi welcomes the Sabbath bride, we are all welcomed here at UMC. A personal experience for me is at Elijah’s Promise where they took my personal recipe and chose to start making it for consumers. This gave me a feeling of pride and accomplishment; I felt a sense of belonging there. I became a part of this amazing group of people and didn’t just feel like a volunteer. That was when it became apparent to me that my love for cooking can give me that feeling of welcomeness.
Kayla Mcgraw, Temple Beth Or, Township of Washington, NJ
Just as the Bar’chu is our calling to action at the start of the service, all of us have taken action this summer. My first days at Daisy and Play SAFE compare very well to the Barchu. I needed to prepare myself to truly become one of their staff members and change many lives. I built relationships and not only did I give to the community I have been living in, but I gained so much from the work I was doing as well. I had experiences volunteering with my UMC family that I couldn’t have had anywhere else and I am so thankful for their support in all of these new, amazing beginnings. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to take action with such an incredible team like UMC.
Sydni Gleeson, Congregation Emanuel, Denver, CO
The Maariv Aravim is a prayer about bringing on the evening. This payer reminds me about my first evening here. I was so worried about my roommates and if I was even going to like it here. Only to find out that my roommates are 3 of the best people I have met. It amazes me how every night we all come together as one community to talk about our day and sing to calm us down for the night. Being here at UMC has been an amazing life changing experience and I can’t wait to keep in touch with all of these amazing people, even if we are as far as 6,000 miles away.
Lily Waldorf, Congregation Beth Chaim, Princeton Junction, NJ
& Marlee Waldman, Temple Emanu-El, Edison, NJ
Love cannot be simply defined. Love is giving your child the opportunity to experience a program as special as this (thanks mom and dad)
Love is having 45 campers cry on your last day of camp.
Love is being gone for a day and coming back to hugs and “I miss yous” from your 12yr old girls who are too cool for everything.
Love is spending 15 min trying to decide what movie you watch on a Saturday night because you want everyone to be happy.
Love is cherishing every story, laugh and smile over countless trips to froyo and bubble tea.
Love is coming home to endless hugs and sharing experiences over cucumbers and hummus despite a long day at work.
Love is giving up your spot on the laundry list to do a load of everyone’s sweaty t-shirts and believe us [that’s love]
Love is the long nights, constant complaints and messy rooms that our amazing staff has to put up with all summer.
Love is never ending, reaches from coast to coast and is knowing no matter what you’ll never be alone.
Love cannot be simply defined, but we’ve fallen in love with Urban Mitzvah Corps
Alexa Maltby, Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, New Brunswick, NJ
Ariel Bloch, Temple Sholom in Broomall, Broomall, PA
& Danny Bass, Temple Shaari Emeth, Manalapan, NJ
6 weeks ago, the three of us had not had a conversation together. 6 weeks ago we were strangers. 6 weeks ago we were different people.
The 3 of us stand here as one. Today, we are part of a greater community. Today we are UMC.
We worked at different job sites,
We had different roommates,
We had different experiences, but at the end of the day, we are still one!
As we enter into the last year of high school and go our separate ways we know that we will still be one in spirit. We know that we will always have our UMC family.
Lauren Miller, Congregation Beth Chaim, Princeton Junction, NJ
& Jessica Strauss, Temple Shalom, Succasunna, NJ
One lesson we have learned from Urban Mitzvah Corps this summer has been that we can play a part in changing the world. In the past 6 weeks we have gone outside of our comfort zones and challenged ourselves in order to make a change in the community. As the V’ahavta says we must be mindful of the mitzvot we must do. Therefore, we will continue to improve peoples lives once we get home. Urban Mitzvah Corp was only 6 weeks, but this lesson will stay with us throughout our lives.
Hannah Viau, Congregation Shaarai Shomayim, Lancaster, PA
We should all be thankful for the lives we live. UMC has showed me that praising G-d for the freedom we are able to have is a priority. I had the freedom to be in this program for three weeks. It has been wonderful to feel the presence of G-d through all of the people at UMC. We all go through different things and fight in different battles, but we should learn to live in the moment and appreciate what we have. Live with no worries.
Sarah Watkins, Temple Emanuel, Beverly Hills, CA
Hashkivenu is a prayer of reassurance that is said at bed time. I attended camp Hess Kramer, and every night we sang siyum together which included hashkivenu. Here at UMC, we have our own night time ritual, and although it doesn’t include hashkivenu, it still gives us the comfort and reassurance that the hashkivenu brings. It brings us together and reminds us that we are one community.
Nicole Jevons, Temple Shalom, Yakima, WA
The prayer V’shamru is about Shabbat. It states the people of Israel will observe Shabbat throughout the ages as a covenant for all time. When I’m at home I look forward to Shabbat. I get excited about taking a break from school and being able to sleep in. That excitement has lessened while I’ve been at UMC though. I mean, I’ve had a ton of fun these last two Shabbats, I just haven’t felt like I’ve needed the break that Shabbat brings. And the reason is my job site. I’m working at Regency Heritage Retirement Community, and I love it. I’m having so much fun talking, singing, pushing wheelchairs, and just hanging out with the residents that I never want to go back home. But I know that I will have to go home, and when I do, I hope to bring the love and excitement that I have for regency into my everyday life.
Matt Budofsky, Staff
Shabbat Shalom. When I first decided that I wanted to staff UMC, I had a lot of expectations based on my UMC experience. UMC is among the best summers of my life, and I met my best friends, whom I still talk to every day, during that summer, so needless to say, I set the bar very high. I can very proudly and happily say that standing here, after 2 three week sessions, all of the teens have far exceeded those expectations. The strength of the community they have built is beyond description. I wake up every day and am greeted by a vibrant, excited, and motivated group that can’t wait to get the day started, and when they come home after working all day, that energy, if not more, is still present. The teens use that energy to push each other to new heights, lead deep insightful discussions, but most of all, to have fun. There has not been a single day where I haven’t seen a smile across everyone’s faces. It is inspiring to see, and I am very thankful that I have been able to be part of this community. I know that this group will continue to live up to the legacy of UMC, and I cannot wait to welcome them into our community of alumni.
Shifra Malkin, Staff
UMC has been this program that has been a part of my life for the last 10 years. After I did finish my summer in 2k3, I knew that I wanted to stay connected to my friends, staff, and this program. This summer I took on a new role in UMC, the Engagement Coordinator, where I get to interact with each teen and volunteer with them. I have been able to see each one of these amazing teens grow in their one or two job sites. From their first day, being a little timid, to this morning when everyone was going around to everyone they knew and saying goodbye with hugs. There has been a lot of change within each person this summer. I love seeing the development of their leadership skills, communication with others, empathy, and even resourcefulness at certain sites to make the unusable work in other ways. Each teen that has come through this program this summer has amazed me in one way or another. I am very thankful that I was able to witness their “aha” moments, hear about their days, and be there alongside them when they tried new things. Thank you to all the UMC 2013 teens for sharing these moments with me, to the staff for being supportive and great to work with, the job sites for including our teens as their staff, and for all of the parents and alum for their continued support during the summer and years beyond.
Karina Brenner, Congregation Beth Ahabah, Richmond, VA
Working at Play SAFE is an amazing experience. I chose to write about Shalom Rav because every time I see one of the kids I work with smile or see them happy or cheerful it gives me a feeling of peace and comfort and I feel blessed that God gave me the opportunity to work with these amazing kids. Even though I am doing it for them I am getting a lot out of this experience as well. Seeing the kids show up early with big smiles on their face running toward me yelling my name honestly , it’s the best feeling in the world and I wish it would never end.
Lexi Bromberg, Temple Sinai of Roslyn Heights, Roslyn, NY
Jordan Schenker, Washington Hebrew Congregation, Washington, DC
& Taylin Leibowitz, Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, New Brunswick, NJ
In the prayer oseh shalom, we as Jews, pray for peace in our lives. We have taken the initiative this summer to create peaceful environments for the people we interact with. Whether 7 or 70, we strive to put a smile on their face.
Lexi: In my 2 weeks at play safe, the local day camp for underprivileged kids, I have been challenged with making peace among 30, 10-12 year olds. Although this is difficult, I try my best to keep them entertained, out of trouble, and happy. I teach them new games, which although they might be initially hesitant to play, they end up loving them. Knowing that I helped make these kids happy, makes me happy.
Taylin: At the start of my time volunteering at Camp Daisy, the day camp for disabled kids, teens, and adults, I didn’t know that the 7 teenagers I worked with would impact me as much as they did. Each one of them taught me something about myself whether it was to be more patient or that it was okay to let my imagination run free. These teens allowed me to become a better person and created a peace within me.
Jordan: The main goal of the recreational staff at regency, the Jewish elderly home, is to keep the residents entertained and upbeat. I have found it an honor to hear the many stories of their lives and I will continue to treasure the time i spent there. Putting a smile on a resident’s face made my day, and I was lucky enough to do this every day. Each one of us has been changed by the people we have worked with this summer and who have allowed us to make peace within our communities. Shabbat Shalom.
Justin Thaler, Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester, Chappaqua, NY
Josh Knight, Congregation Shalom, Milwaukee, WI
Shai Gerstle, Temple Emanu-El, Westfield, NJ
Adina Karten, Temple Shalom, Aberdeen, NJ
The week’s portion details the requirements to become the supreme judge of the land. Moses instructs the people of ruling qualities: objectivity and refusal of bribery. Nothing must deter the carrying out of the mission of justice. He also stresses the importance of education: if a person is not taught right from wrong, justice cannot be reached no matter the amount of laws to stringency of importance. The ultimate goal is a societal commitment to the Torah, God, and the people.But what does that mean? The command is vague. Moses does not detail what justice is, he only lists criteria for the enforcer; the Supreme Judge. Today we have countless enforcers, selected by similar criteria that govern the nation as a whole. Still, that details nothing of what justice is… The question still stands: What is a commitment to the Torah, to God, to the people? My favorite excerpt from the Talmud tells, “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to others. The rest is commentary. Go and learn it.”
Again and again Judaism repeats itself: kindness to the around is the most important deed in life. Even the Hebrew language is geared towards this mission. A mitzvah means both a commandment and a good deed. And so, a commitment to God, the Torah, the people; a commitment to the commandment, is a commitment to goodness. I, and the teens that join me on the bima tonight, have dedicated the last 3 to 6 weeks serving the community with Urban Mitzvah Corps. Under the guidance of Bryan Bierman, Ilysa Cooperman, Matt Budofsky, and Shifra Malkin, we have worked at Regency Heritage Home for the Aged; Camp Daisy for the physically and mentally disabled; Play Safe, which is a soup kitchen that works from farm to table, as well as Sandy Relief projects. As my newly found family can agree, UMC has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life. There are few things that can match the feeling you get when a non-verbal and largely withdrawn child claps with delight when you sing, “I’ve been working on the railroad.” Something that simple can greatly impact not just that child’s life but your own. Because as one of our program leaders, Detective D’Amico aptly stated, it’s not about changing the entire world. It’s about changing your own world. Thank you and Shabbat Shalom.
Bryan Bierman, Staff
Shabbat Shalom, A few weeks ago we were all basically strangers living our own lives. I began to think about all of the wonderful experiences we got to share together. I realized that these once strangers became a extremely strong community. I think that everyone in this room can understand what UMC really does to you as a person and a Jewish teen. From singing songs to crying to a crazy scavenger hunt to volunteering at play safe to lending a hand at Elijah’s Promise. UMC really has changed each and every one our teens. I encourage our teens of UMC to hold the experiences that you have in our hearts. When you head off to college in a few years make sure you remember what you learned and never forget what happened during UMC… In my life music always is something that helps me reflect on the experience that I have had anywhere.
I Feel Home by OAR
Well in the end we can all call a friend
well that’s something I know as true.
And then a thousand years and a thousand tears
I’ll come finding my original crew
UMC is your original crew. Somewhere down the road you might find yourself getting calls from present teens or past alumni asking you if you can help and be there as support networks. I cant finish my speech without mentioning my wonderful staff. Ilysa, Matt, Shifra, and Alexa you are superstars. From our incredible staff meetings to heart to hearts, you are more then anything I could of wish for. THANK YOU. I want to thank everyone in the room. UMC families, participants, alumni, and Temple members I couldn’t have even pictured what this experience was going to play out to be. The support that UMC has really made our live easy! A special thanks goes out Anshe Emeth whose support has given us special bond, thank you for lending you hand to the success of umc. UMC of this year as this chapter in each of your lives ends a new one unfolds. Shall we always know that our paths are intertwined much the same way as that of a rope—we will always be “tied” together.
Thanks again, and Shabbat Shalom!