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.

Teen Article


logoMaking My Break Count 4

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.

bullet point  David was a Habitat 2014 participant.

L’Taken Through the Years

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

Teen Article

L'Taken Article

rac logoL’Taken in Washington D.C.

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.

bullet point  Trevor was a L’Taken 2014 participant.

Teen Article


logoMaking My Break Count 3

“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!

bullet point  Dylann was a Habitat 2013 participant.


Teen Article

l'shaper photo

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.

bullet point  Robbie was a L’Shaper 2013 participant.

Teen Article

Torah Hub photo

Why Is My Footprint So Big?Carbon Footprint graphic

Reducing my Carbon Footprint

By Lior Shemesh of Danvers

Discussion 3 was my first time at Torah Hub for Teens and it was an experience to remember. At Temple Ahavat Achim, I had a chance to learn about Eco-Judaism and reducing my carbon footprint with my closest friends who I worked with at Habitat For Humanity during spring break. I recently became interested in recycling and reusing, and learning more about how to improve my carbon footprint was really helpful. After hearing about how the new temple in Gloucester is “green-improved,” we watched an amazing video called The Story of Stu that showed how our country and the world uses and wastes.

It is crazy to think that each step of manufacturing takes up so much energy and creates toxic waste.

After watching the insightful video about mother Earth and what we can do to protect it, we went on a scavenger hunt. We were able to talk about the improvements made in the new temple. You can tell from looking at the new building that it is green. e amount of windows that light up the building instead of lights being used at all times during the day makes a huge difference. The lights are compact fluorescent and movement- activated, so they are only on when there is movement in the room which helps save loads on energy. The building also has a cool new insulation, a spray- on foamy, white material that keeps the heat in and the cool out in the winter, and in the summer does the opposite.

Having only a small amount of time at the Torah Hub, NSTI’s Executive Director Adam Smith took four teens including me to Friendly’s to recap, discuss our opinions on the program and to mingle. SMARTY YAiSH’s Youth Director Darren Benedick came along as did the guest speaker of the program, Getzel Davis, who we were able to get to know a little better. He is a rabbinic student at Hebrew College in Newton and is really inspired to help the world become a greener place.

bullet point  Lior Shemesh was a 2012 Torah Hub Participant.

Soup-er Sunday Through the Years

Soup-er Sunday photo

In Their Own Words

Read what NSTI teens have said, in their own words, about leadership, service and pie at NSTI’s annual Soup-er Sunday celebration of Mitzvah Day International.

“Soup-er Sunday provided an excellent medium to immerse myself in a community effort to make people happy on Thanksgiving with homemade pies, lasagna, and soup. Being able to use my baking expertise in a way that gives back to the community was a heart warming experience and one in which I look forward to participating in next year!”

~ Austin Sagan, Soup-er Sunday 2012

“This year, I was able to specifically deliver the lasagna, soups and pies to the Lynn Emergency Shelter. It was a really touching experience to be able to see the people that we all had helped to provide for. One thing I’ll never forget are the huge smiles they all had on their faces when they saw the endless trays of food.”

~ Sophie Scott, Soup-er Sunday 2012

“It was great to see so many kids working together to make a difference in our community…there must have been around 50…and Rabbi Fine’s lesson on world hunger and Judaism really gave our work meaning.”

~ Jacob Cline, Soup-er Sunday 2010

“Soup-er Sunday was a day full of nonstop laughter, fun and entertaining ourselves while making food. NSTI events always create new friendships. I was glad I was able to help people out so they can have food on their plates.”

~ Jessica Greenbaum, Soup-er Sunday 2010

Teen Article

Coffee House photo

First Impressions

Discovering Improv

By Lauren Sliva of Peabody

If you had asked me if I was interested in joining a band through a Jewish program last year, I might have refused. Now I think it’s one of the best choices I’ve made to date.

I play the saxophone, and before Jam Space, I had never really been part of a real band other than the ones they offer at my high school. When I started attending, it was a little intimidating to have scales thrown at me and to be told to improvise for the first time, but it was worth it to try something new. It’s true when people say learning improvisation is just like learning a whole new instrument; it’s my favorite thing to do now.

Prepping weekly with a group of talented musicians really broadened the variety of music that I play. I’ve been introduced to funk and reggae music that I doubt I would’ve picked up on my own. When we preformed as a band at the Howling Wolf in Salem, I loved showing what all of our hard work had produced. As a band we came very far and I’m proud of the performance we put on. I’ve become great friends with everyone else in the band and I’m always looking forward to our next practice.

bullet point  Lauren Sliva was a 2011 Coffee House performer with Meshugganh.