Five days ago, we welcomed 33 teens from around the country into the Phi Sigma Sigma house to kick off UMC 2013. The last five days have been full of group building activities, walks to the grease trucks, a stellar fireworks display, and an incredible start to our volunteer work. We have begun to transform the inhabitants of the Phi Sigma Sigma house into a UMC kehillah (community), and its walls into our home.
Our first week consisted of working at our four different community organizations: Camp Daisy, Play SAFE, Elijah’s Promise, and Regency Heritage Retirement Home. In the days leading up to the commencement of volunteering, the atmosphere in the house was a mix of anxiety and building expectations, but quickly turned to excitement when they
came in contact with whom they were working with. In addition to fun and excitement, each site provides a deeper understanding and meaning of our core principles.
While at Elijah’s Promise, our teens focus on the idea of “farm to table.” They embody the concepts of shutafut (partnership) and kehillah (community) in reference to feeding the hungry as they prepare food and serve meals to the public at their community café.
At both Camp Daisy and Play SAFE, the teens learn about the importance of kef v’ruach (fun and spirit) as they provide a very special camp experience to two different populations of people. At Camp Daisy our teens are working with people that have mental and physical disabilities, and at Play SAFE they work with the inner city youth of the New Brunswick area. In addition to attending to the participants’ physiological needs, such as safety, they are also creating an emotionally stable environment for these people to experience the magic of the same type of community we’ve built for ourselves.
Lastly, Regency Heritage helps our teens understand the importance of midor l’dor, the idea that in order to fully appreciate our present and ensure our future, we must strive to understand our past. Each resident looks forward to seeing our smiling teens faces each and every summer.
Our teens don’t come home from their jobs sites and simply lounge around the house. At UMC, they have been learning to cook with our staff member and house chef, Matt Budofsky, engage with one another, and gain some independence by exploring the area, within boundaries, of course! At the end of each day we come together as one community for our night time ritual. There, we come together in a circle and each say a word of how we felt during the day, followed by an
evening story or prayer that is connected with a lesson for of the day. We conclude by singing two prayers together, the Sh’ma and Hashkiveinu. These prayers literally ask God to watch over us while we sleep, and in this UMC kehillah, we are also offering support and protection to one another.
During the past week, we also had the opportunity to participate in our first two programs with two UMC alumni. The teens heard from two different Rabbi Abrahams, both with a strong bond to the program and our New Brunswick community. The older Rabbi Abraham was one who helped form UMC in the 1970s, while the younger Rabbi Abraham, a generation later, was a staff member here. Both came to talk to our teens about the larger community and legacy that they are joining by participating this summer. UMC has a rich history in the New Brunswick area, and both rabbis invited our teens to become part of the UMC family.
The other program was lead by Grace Gurman Chan, a UMC participant from the 1970s, and focused on understanding interpersonal communications to enhance not only our group dynamic within the house, but to offer some insight into others that we work with. She led our teens in learning the differences between introverted and extroverted people, and how to bridge the communication gap between the two. She also gave some insight into self reflections, and how to live in a community with many people and their different values and personalities, which addresses our value of kol yehudim (pluralism).
Tonight will be our first Shabbat together as a community. We have put our teens into service groups, some working to prepare a Saturday morning service, some creating Havdallah, and others putting together a text to teach at night time ritual. This evening’s service will be staff led, and we are excited to show our teens how you can have a creative service while still keeping the Sabbath. It is important that as a group we take in the different ways we can create a sense of Shabbat but still making it our own, realizing that as 37 individuals, we may be accustomed to celebrating differently,
but by creating something together we are building new traditions that we can do as a “family” and bring back home with us.
This week’s Torah portion, Mato (Numbers 30:2-32:42), describes the story of a struggle of land (letting others fight the battle for you) and greed. This lesson is portrayed through our community at UMC through discussion around food, and not taking too much so we aren’t wasteful. We are also part of the UMC tradition of engaging with the New Brunswick area, rather than, as we so often do, looking past the hardships that others endure. Our teens are encouraged to take the lessons that we talk about to help form not only their summer here, but way beyond UMC experience. We believe that they are growing with each other, and building upon their Jewish identity.
Please be sure to check our Mitzvah Corps Blog, as it is updated with photo albums, written post, and compilation of social media presence. Of course, you can always follow along with us:
Twitter – @MC_New Jersey and @MitzvahCorps
Instagram – @MC_NewJersey and @URJ_MitzvahCorps
Facebook – NFTY Mitzvah Corps
Bryan, Ilysa, Matt, Shifra, Alexa, and Jonah
Urban Mitzvah Corps and North America Staff