2016 began with our Executive Director, Adam Smith, being recognized as one of Boston’s CJP “Chai in the Hub” most accomplished young professionals. Watch his interview starting at 2m:10s.
In Their Own Words
Read what NSTI teens over the last two years have said, in their own words, about our Alumni College Panel.
“NSTI has impacted my college experience greatly. I really enjoyed working with Habitat for Humanity during my time with NSTI. Participating showed me how grateful I am to be a part of an organization that cares so much about helping others. It inspired me to lead a Habitat for Humanity group from my college, UNH. I am so thankful for NSTI for showing me how I can make a difference.”
~ Rachel Grosz, University of New Hampshire Class of 2017
“Looking back at everything I did with NSTI, it has definitely made me a better person. It has impacted my life in such a positive way by giving me new friendships that have lasted many years and inspiring my love for volunteering.”
~ Betti Bucco, Roger Williams University Class of 2017
“NSTI gave me a community and a network of amazing people. I made friends that I still have today, and always feel like I have a connection to the Jewish community of the North Shore.”
~ Aaron Greiner, Olin College Class of 2016
“The biggest thing I learned from NSTI is that building community takes so many forms. At school, it’s so important to have different groups of people to count on, whether it’s with Greek life, co-workers or classmates. People from all over the North Shore come to NSTI events, and in my experience they were people I often didn’t see on a regular basis. This affirmed the importance of sharing experiences with a few unique groups of people who, along with other interests, collectively enhance my social experience.”
~ Jeremy Meyer, University of Iowa Class of 2016
“NSTI taught me how both meaningful and fun it could be to be an active citizen. From the impact we could make in just 5 days at Habitat, to the incredible opportunity to lobby at on Capitol Hill through L’taken, NSTI gave me so many opportunities to live tikkun Olam, not just talk about it on Shabbat.”
~ Shane Skikne, Olin College Class of 2015
Reflections from an Alumna
NSTI & LIFE BEYOND HIGH SCHOOL
By Amanda German of Marblehead
The summer before my senior year of high school, I attended the JCC Artsfest trip. Initially, it made me feel nervous to travel across the country, stay with a host family, and create art with people I did not know. Yet looking back on the trip, it is one of my favorite memories from high school. I made friends with peers my own age, those younger than me, and some from other parts of the country. I applied to colleges in the state of Pennsylvania because of a friend I made from the Philly Artsfest delegation. I displayed the square mosaic I made on my Artsfest trip during my college interviews. I found out after deciding I would attend Muhlenberg College (located in PA) that one of the reasons I was accepted, was due to the fact that I brought such unique artwork to my interview. I also found it extremely rewarding to attend a school that has a 34% makeup of students identifying with being Jewish. I wanted to keep my Jewish faith in college and meet more people as caring and like-minded as those I met through Artsfest.
Additionally, while in high school, I attended many NSTI events. At J-Serve one year, I was part of a group that created an inspiring mural to hang on the wall. This specific event made me join a club in college called Art Day, which focuses on bringing visual arts to Elementary Schools that do not have the funds for art classes and art supplies. I later became the president of this club, and I worked to expand the number of schools we visited, how often we visited, and the projects we would complete with the students.
I owe a great amount of my passions, success and friendships to NSTI and their many programs. I highly recommend high school students attend an event, meet someone new, and learn more about what inspires them to create and to give back. It certainly shaped who I am today.
Amanda was a Alumni College Panel 2016 participant.
Lasagna Life Lessons
Getting your soup-er hero on
By Elana Zabar of Swampscott
Just in time for Thanksgiving, NSTI held its sixth Soup-er Sunday. Nearly 70 teens gathered at the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore to participate in this annual event. As a community, we made 24 family-sized lasagnas, 26 apple pies, and 15 gallons of soup for the Lynn Emergency Shelter.
Before the cooking started, volunteers congregated with Adam Smith, North Shore Teen Initiative’s Executive Director, and he explained how this event related to our Jewish faith. Teenagers took turns reading passages from Jewish texts and quotes from famous philosophers about charitable actions.
As an active participant in service events, I signed up to help with Soup-er Sunday. Typically, at soup kitchens, we pray to Jesus and thank him for the food we are about to feed people. I have stood in the circle, yet I have never participated in the prayer. This was the first time I was able to connect my faith to something I love to do, and it felt incredible; most definitely an experience I would never trade.
I very much enjoyed working with people around my age, making me feel as an equal, not the typical inferior being. Cooking has never been a talent of mine, so you could say that I may have been a tad skeptical about being a part of this activity. I got to work with people who knew a lot more than I did and I really appreciated that. I was convinced I was going to ruin the entire dish; it was quite the challenge. Yet, I learned how to whip a lasagna together in under ten minutes, not something most people can say!
The event was a huge success for everyone: the teenagers, the adults and the shelter. A huge thank you to North Shore Teen Initiative for organizing an event as awesome as this one, I look forward to many more!
Elana was a Soup-er Sunday 2015 participant.
Just Be Yourself and…
Everything Else Falls Into Place
By Michelle Shnayder of Swampscott
From a young age, we are told that one of the most important things in life is to be happy and comfortable in our own skin. Of course, when you are five years old that is a difficult concept to wrap your brain around. The first day of kindergarten, where we are surrounded by a whole new group of kids, is a naturally frightening and anxious moment. However, as time proceeds and we make new friends, all the fears seem to disappear and in their place come excitement and optimism. When I was first told about the NSTI retreat, I was fairly skeptical about whether I wanted to join or not. My friend kept telling me to go and that it would be a lot of fun. With a great deal of hesitation, I complied.
I remember the first moment that I got on the bus and looked around at all of these people I didn’t know. Yet the second the bus departed from the temple, we were already playing icebreaker games. It was the most peculiar thing; I had just gotten myself situated on the bus, and was already getting to know the people around me. The atmosphere that accompanied the bus was unbelievable.
My mom had always told me how I should try to get more involved with other teens in the area because there were so many great kids out there that I don’t know. I always just nodded my head and agreed with her for the sake of not starting an unbeatable argument—however, I realized just how true that was when I got to know everyone on the trip.
The fact that there would be so many new kids I didn’t know made me nervous at first. It was not until I started to talk to them that I understood that they were some of the coolest people I have ever met. From the moment that we all stepped foot on Camp Yavneh’s soil, to the religious activities, to the kayaking, to pulling a MOOving joke on Doug, to the intense game of Lap tag and knockout (you go kid, KNOCK ‘EM DEAD), to the wonderful bonfire, and finally to the sad good-bye—I realized just how fortunate I was to be part of such a great community of people.
Before my trip to Israel with Y2I and the retreat, I did not fully understand how much of a blessing it is to be Jewish. There is no doubt in my mind that I will have them in my life for quite some time. I can, with all honesty, say that although the retreat is over and I have gone back to my normal lifestyle, a part of me has changed and altered. I have a much better perspective of who I am, who I want to be, and most importantly the role I wish to serve in the Jewish community.
Michelle was a Shabbaton 2013-14 participant.
Everyone Has the Ability to Make the World a Better Place
By David Burdick of Marblehead
This past February break, I wanted to do something meaningful; something that would make a positive difference in someone’s life. Going to North Carolina with NSTI in order to work with Habitat for Humanity gave me an opportunity to not only provide service, but also to discover what role charity plays in Judaism.
The trip was not my first. In fact it was my third and last, so I had a pretty good idea what I was getting into. In past years, the group I was with mainly worked on building foundations for houses yet to come. As important as a foundation is, it was difficult to grasp its entire meaning. I couldn’t picture a once-struggling family sitting down and finally enjoying a newfound sense of security and safety.
This most recent trip, however, completely changed my view. The group’s responsibility was mainly to put the “finishing touches” on the house. About three days into our work, while I was installing a door, a woman stumbled upon our worksite. Unsure of her intentions, I approached her with one of the site supervisors to and out why she was there. It soon became apparent that she was the future homeowner of the house I was just inside. She graciously thanked me and I could truly see my work come to fruition.
The woman said it was “only by the grace of God” that she was given the opportunity to get a Habitat home. She told me that she was a struggling single mother who was barely making ends meet and that this home was the first step into her securing a future for her and her family.
At this moment I understood why service is integral in Judaism. I saw how one eighteen-year-old from Marblehead could completely change the life of a total stranger in North Carolina. Everything made sense. God gives everyone the ability to make the world a better place, whether through physical labor or donation, but it is up to the individual to go out and make that change.
David was a Habitat 2014 participant.
In Their Own Words
Read what NSTI teens over the last several years have said, in their own words, about participating in Religious Action Center’s L’Taken Seminar in Washington, D.C.
“The RAC L’Taken trip in Washington DC made me realize how important it is for us Jews to advocate on the behalf of others because as a group we know what it is like to depend on other people advocating for us.”
~ Ben Birnbach, L’Taken 2016
“I now realize how important facing our country’s social justice topics are to me. Being able to lobby for an issue that I am passionate about, while seeing how it connects to me, is really meaningful. Without this trip, I wouldn’t care so much. It feels good to know I can make a difference!”
~ Simone Nardizzi, L’Taken 2016
“The experience piqued my interest in political action, and made me more aware of problems facing Americans and how our religion sees them. The trip overall was an incredibly prodigious experience, and I left the capital with friends from all over the country, including right here at home.”
~ Elana Zabar, L’Taken 2015
“Throughout the weekend, I learned some of the things that no one can teach you, but you can teach yourself. I met the kindest people and I have learned how to accept different types of people for who they are. In DC, I took a chance to be open, kind and willing to learn new information about a different movement of Judaism.”
~ Daniel Jacobson, L’Taken 2015
“L’Taken gave me the chance to self-reflect, create new friendships and see our nation’s capital.”
~ Matt Scholnick, L’Taken 2014
“One moment from the trip that really resonated with me was spending havdallah on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. All 300 conference teens from around the nation held candles and prayed together. There was a feeling of togetherness and connection.”
~ Lily Cummings, L’Taken 2012
Representing a People
By Trevor Brown of Georgetown
After attending the L’Taken seminar in Washington D.C., I was truly able to revisit my passion for my Jewish identity.
Going into the trip, I was a bit hesitant because out of everyone there I only knew one student prior to attending. As I walked in the airport to meet my new friends, I was hit with a smile because I realized I would be spending the next few days becoming friends with these complete strangers. Before I knew it I was walking around Washington with some of my new closest friends, eating the Korean dish Bibimbap, while laughing uncontrollably, sharing our life experiences as Jewish teens.
After spending part of the weekend in seminars, I was hit with an epiphany. As the Rabbis that were there participated in our groups spiritually and physically, I gained a whole new level of respect for them. Before the trip I never really thought of a Rabbi as a role model, but their level of spirituality pulled me into discussions with them based on life itself, and I gained a whole new outlook on life. After my conversations with them I became more intrigued about becoming more spiritual in the religion after seeing how much they were at peace with themselves.
On our last night, as we were attempting to write our speeches for lobbying on Capitol Hill, I hit a brick wall and fell defenseless on my back. As I was sitting agape with no clue what to write, a Rabbi sat next to me and said: “I know you’re not sure what to write, but know you are representing the land of your people and the Jewish population; I know you will make us proud.”
Inspiration soon started flowing through my body from this man that just lifted me up by my heart and set me right back on my feet. The next day I walked into the Congressman’s office with the people of Israel on my shoulders and reminded them that although we as a nation are small in size, when we are put together there is no person, group, or movement that will keep us from persevering.
Trevor was a L’Taken 2014 participant.
“Sticking Our Necks Out” to Help Others
By Dylann Cooper of Beverly
Since this past February was my first time participating in Habitat for Humanity, I didn’t know what to expect or what I would do. I knew there would be a lot of work involved but never did I imagine how much fun and how rewarding the whole experience would be.
The entire North Shore Teen Initiative group was so inviting as well as the Habitat staff and AmeriCorps volunteers in North Carolina who made me feel like a part of the team and not just another teen volunteer. This experience has completely opened my eyes to the extent of how much I am able to help people in this world, and how appreciative I am of the people of Habitat and NSTI, who are helping us kids on the North Shore give back.
I never realized how this trip would impact me like it did: it was amazing knowing that I was working hard to help a family who was also working hard (in a different way, of course) to be able to buy a house and to provide a better life for their family.
At one point I was standing inside the foundation of one of the three houses we were working on, and it hit me that what I was physically standing on at that moment, was soon going to be the door of a brand new home. Of course, at that time it was still all dirt and didn’t look much like anything with its cement and brick foundation; not much taller than I am in some areas, even where the ground was higher. However, in a few short months it would have doors and walls and a roof.
Once I really realized this, it made me feel even more incredible about what I was doing for a family I didn’t even know. It also proved to me that I didn’t need to know these people to help change their lives. I think this gave me a new strength to complete what we had gone to Raleigh to do, and to give this house’s new family the sense of pride that they deserved in being able to buy themselves a house with hard-earned money — I was just a little part of helping that dream become a reality for them.
During our last day on-site, we drove through the community of houses that the 2011 NSTI group had worked on two years prior. I was in complete awe that we were actually seeing the work of this astounding organization and the good it does for people all over the country and the world.
Growing up Jewish and going to Hillel, I was taught how important it is to be a giraffe and stick my neck out to help others, and at this point, what I had done really felt like tikkun olam. I am so thankful for this experience and can’t wait until next year to go back!
Dylann was a Habitat 2013 participant.
Giving Back 2
How will you get involved?
By Robbie Mindel of Marblehead
Volunteering with NSTI is always great. No matter what we do, we have fun. Last spring I got involved in a program called L’Shaper. Almost every Monday for a few months, about 10 teens have dinner and discussion together starting at Temple Sinai then head to the Ford School in Lynn. Half the group work with children either tutoring or through “enrichment activities,” while the other half of our group works directly with the adult learners tutoring in Math and English.
It was a lot of fun to play Uno, Monopoly, and Connect Four again and teach at the same time. Some teen volunteers did art projects, geography games, or math and science exercises, depending on what the kids enjoyed.
The one-on-one contact we get to have with the young students of the Ford School makes a big difference in their social confidence and connections to other people. I encourage other teens out there to volunteer their time to find a Service Learning program that lines up with their schedules and works for them. It is something you will always remember.
Robbie was a L’Shaper 2013 participant.