By Jay Rapoport, MARE Director of Lifelong Learning
This weekend, Rabbi Gellman, Caleb Bromberg and I took 15 of our Orr Shalom teens to Philadelphia. It was our biggest teen trip in the four years I have worked at Temple Sholom, which is no coincidence – with Caleb’s help, our youth programs are booming! Rabbi Gellman and Caleb co-teach our weekly Crown Family High School, which this year has focused on Reform Jewish history as we have celebrated our sesquicentennial.
But why did we take them to Philly?
More accurately, they took us. When we held Orr Shalom youth group board elections last May, one of our new co-presidents, Chloe Wagner, had just returned from a college visit to Philly and felt it could make a great Jewish weekend trip. Chloe’s background in NFTY, our national reform teen movement, has helped her to appreciate the unique nature of immersive youth group experiences. Travel and experiential learning provide fertile ground for wrestling with big questions, bonding in a stronger way, and feeling more connected to our community.
We asked our teens why they wanted to go, and what they wanted to do. They listed ideas: The National Museum of American Jewish History, Eastern State Penitentiary (to continue their study of restorative justice), Congregation Rodeph Shalom (to connect to the history of our movement), American historical sites such as Independance Hall and the Liberty Bell, and of course, a baseball game!
We enlisted the teens in planning an itinerary and doing research for bookings. A trio of teens – Zoe Prince, Soren Birnbaum and Eli Perlin – became co-chairs of the event, meeting regularly with the board. The teens spent part of their winter OSRUI retreat charting the course of the weekend, debating travel times and which ideas would fit into our schedule. They spent their shul-in filming a GoFundMe video to help cover costs of the trip, and priced out hotels and airfare. Caleb supported their efforts and worked with me to fill the gaps and ensure that all of their efforts would come to fruition.
Finally, the weekend arrived! We met early Friday morning at O’Hare and the adventure began. We started with a delicious hummus lunch at Dizengoff, a walking tour of downtown Philly led by Rabbi Gellman, and an amazing visit to Eastern State to learn about the complicated history of prison reform in America. We spent Shabbat evening at Rodeph Shalom, dined out in the Italian Market, and celebrated Shabbat morning under flowering trees in front of Independance Hall. After an deep dive intro American Jewish history at the museum, we took in lunch at Reading Terminal, spent Saturday afternoon at the Magic Gardens, and joined Student Night at Citizens Bank Park for a Phillies game. Sunday began with brunch and shopping and concluded with a visit to One Liberty Observation Deck for a final view of the city.
It was a weekend spent reflecting on themes of freedom – wrestling with our nation’s complex history, the experiences of our people, and the often biased nature of our justice system, as well as appreciating the right to pray outside freely in our tradition, connecting to our national movement and, most of all, enjoying the company of a group of teens who started out as classmates but are now a tight-knit group that can’t stop texting each other. I’m grateful that we were able to give them the freedom to determine their own educational experience, and I can’t wait to find out what they will plan next!