J-Serve Through the Years

j-serve photo

In Their Own Words

Read what NSTI teens have said, in their own words, about digging in and helping their community every April during J-Serve, a Global International Day of Jewish Youth Service.

“Each year we do different projects at different schools based on the needs of each school. It’s amazing to see what teens can do in one afternoon. Everyone that participates at J-Serve works hard to make the school better through projects like mural painting, building bulletin boards, planting gardens and more.”

~ Bettina Bucco, J-Serve 2013

“Along with the school’s administration, we have created a plan to make Harrington School a fun, educational place for students to excel. Projects ranging from painting outdoor murals to renovating the school’s blacktop area will be led by both teen leaders & volunteering adults to help make the school come alive.
 I look forward to this worthwhile opportunity with NSTI, and hope to see as many of our friends as possible at this great day geared to help brighten our community, while having fun at the same time!”

~ Jeremy Meyer, J-Serve 2012


Teen Article

J-Serve Article

J-Serve Logo

I Never Imagined . . .

By Elana Zabar of Swampscott

Although I’ve participated in many North Shore Teen Initiative events, I had never been to J-Serve, and I never imagined it would have such an impact on my life.

J-Serve is an international day of service for Jewish teens worldwide. Each year, 11,000 teens come together to volunteer at different sites. Here on the North Shore on April 17, just about 100 teen and parent volunteers came out to NSTI’s seventh annual J-Serve at the Bridge House Shelter in Lynn. Danvers High School Senior, Roie Shemesh, volunteered to help NSTI plan and run this year’s J-Serve. Shemesh called his fifth J-Serve, “even more than a success.”

The day began with a barbeque lunch and a short introduction by Executive Director Adam Smith framing the day of work by connecting our volunteerism to Jewish tradition. He explained how the portion in the Torah that was read the week before J-Serve challenges us to see the holiness in every single person. This teaching is physically located directly in the center, the same distance from the beginning to the end. That made me think about the people we were helping. [This was NSTI’s first time working at a homeless shelter rather than a school.] The Bridge House provides temporary housing for families as they get back on their feet; they are not in the beginning of their struggle, but nor are they at the end of it, they are directly in the middle.

This year volunteers worked on six Mitzvah projects, each led by a teen leader. They created a beautiful landscape for the house, made a sandbox for the children to play in, built both picnic tables and benches, painted indoor walls with chalkboard paint, created mosaic flowers to hang around the house, and made a life sized Scrabble board for the families to enjoy.

The landscape in front of the shelter started out looking bleak, but after teens dug up dead branches, planted, watered, and spread mulch, they brought a homier vibe to the House. “I chose to work on the landscaping project because it was the most difficult and rewarding project,” Marblehead High School Sophomore Mason Quintero explained. “I liked planting because plants give off oxygen to create a better environment much like how the teens at J-Serve are trying to help build a better space for the residents of the Bridge House.”

The sandbox, picnic table set and Scrabble board will allow residents of the Bridge House to spend more time outside with their families, while the mosaics and chalkboard wall will inspire more play spaces inside.

“Building the sandbox helped me feel like I was really a part of shaping these children’s lives,” said Marblehead High School Junior Glen Veytsman. “Once it’s finished, the kids will be able to build in the sandbox, taking their creative imaginations and making them into realities.”

Seeing 100 volunteers spending the first Sunday of April Vacation lending a hand when they could have been relaxing or traveling was powerful and created a sense of community and unity. I could not have had a better experience!

bullet point  Elana was a J-Serve 2016 participant.

L’Shaper Through the Years

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In Their Own Words

Read what NSTI teens have said, in their own words, about engaging younger generations each week during L’Shaper.

“I love being with kid and the idea of helping some who were in need, which is what drew me to volunteer through L’Shaper. I really loved seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces as I played with them each week. One time in particular, I was playing a game with a young boy no older than 3 who was laughing and smiling as we played. One of the women in charge of the kids at the house then told me that it is usually very difficult to make him smile; this made me feel very good, as it showed that I can help brighten a child’s day.”

~ Sam Orenstein, L’Shaper 2016

“When I get to L’shaper, I find that I’m inspired to do more good work. Seeing our kids smile when we arrive for games and homework reminds me that I’m making a difference in their lives.”

~ Jessica Gindelsky, L’Shaper 2012-14

“Each week when I enter the Ford School, one boy in particular greets me with a smile and immediately I feel welcome. We are years apart, but he makes me laugh as if he was one of my best friends. I wouldn’t trade my experience working with these kids for anything because it has truly been life-changing.”

~ Sophie Katzman, L’Shaper 2010

Habitat Through the Years

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In Their Own Words

Read what NSTI teens over the last six years have said, in their own words, about participating in our annual alternative spring break trip to Habitat.

“Our goal was to do good work and lend hands to those who needed more than just two. Success doesn’t just come from the acts you do for yourself; it comes from the acts you do for others. Habitat was far more rewarding than I ever imagined.”

~ Rachel Ellis, Habitat 2016

“My favorite part of the week was when we finished painting Wallace’s house. When we finished, he took a picture of all of us because he wanted to remember the faces that helped him when he needed it the most.”

~ Lucas Cowan, Habitat 2016

“I had only heard great things about this trip, but everything I heard was nothing in comparison to what I experienced. This trip was amazing; it opened up my eyes to something new. It made me realize that I am not only a part of my local community, but also of a much larger one, and that it is not only my choice, but also my responsibility to help.”

~ Julie Zabar, Habitat 2015

“Doing Habitat for Humanity these past two years has changed my perspective on how to give back through direct action and how truly important it is. It’s not just building houses, it’s building something that will become part of a community, and that is something special.”

~ Doug Mears, Habitat 2015

“Going on Habitat for Humanity was a great way for me to give back to the community by helping others and to meet some really great new friends!”

~ Morgan Cooper, Habitat 2014

“The NSTI Habitat for Humanity trip gave me an opportunity to help out a community in a way that I knew would have a positive impact and reminded me that I alone cannot go and save the world, but I can help. It also provided a unifying experience for everyone on the trip and brought us closer together.”

~ Aaron Greiner, Habitat 2014

“Habitat is a productive way to spend your February break. This was my second year attending the trip and it was even more fun than the first. I made new friends, learned new skills, but most importantly, we made an impact on someone’s life for the better. Every day I woke up with excitement to work hard and see the progress of building the houses. My favorite part was waterproofing the oustide. I got tar all over myself and had to sit on plastic bags on the ride back to the hotel. e next day I was “not allowed” to get tar on myself but I did anyway (oops!). We also had fun after every day of hard work, my favorite activity being the Canes hockey game. It was so much fun even though they lost!”

~ Talia Blyer, Habitat 2013

“Being able to go on Habitat for Humanity with NSTI was an amazing experience because I felt that I was really making a difference. We made a lot of progress on three houses at our site so our work did not seem insignificant. It was not like I was on the sideline. I was doing hard work, having a great time doing it, and I felt that I was needed.”

~ Aaron Greiner, Habitat 2013

“Through NSTI, I’ve been able to work on local, national and international projects that have shown me how big an impact an individual can make — all the while making friends and having fun.”

~ Jordana Rubin, Habitat 2012

“I am so glad that I was able to go on this NSTI trip, meet all these new amazing friends and feel that the volunteer work really changed me.”

~ Casey Ballin, Habitat 2012

“During my week at Habitat, I learned about more than framing walls and removing nails from boards. I learned how to work as a team to meet and exceed a common goal, and I learned about the importance of giving back to the community and the effect that can have on an area.”

~ Jacob Cline, Habitat 2011

“It was more than just physically building a house, it was us coming together as a group to see how much effort and work goes into one single house and then putting in some of that work and effort for someone less fortunate than us. I have done a lot of community service but nothing has ever felt as meaningful or direct. I did not write a check or make calls from behind a desk in a telethon, I went to the site and used my own hands to build a house. One of the most incredible parts was that feeling of accomplishment when I finished something. Who would have thought I could vynil side the walls of a house or build the foundations of walls? You start in the morning with some uncut wood, a handful of nails and a hammer (or scissors, a handful or nails and soo much vynil siding) and end the day with that intense feeling of pride when you see what your own hands have done.”

~ Shane Skikne, Habitat 2011

CJP Chai in the Hub Award

CJP Chai in the Hub Award

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.

Alumni College Panel Through the Years

Alumni College Panel photo

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

Teen Article

Alumni College Panel photo

Reflections from an Alumna


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.

bullet point  Amanda was a Alumni College Panel 2016 participant.

Teen Article

Soup-er Sunday 2015 Article Photo

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!

bullet point  Elana was a Soup-er Sunday 2015 participant.

Teen Article

Shabbaton Leadership Retreat article photo

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.

bullet point  Michelle was a Shabbaton 2013-14 participant.