April 15, 2024
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Ma’ayanot Freshmen Take the Lead on NJ NCSY’s 40th Chesed Mission

What is the connection between oysters, a Methodist church, the Revolutionary War and teaching Torah?

They were all part of the Ma’ayanot/NJ NCSY Freshmen Leadership Mission to Charleston, South Carolina, which took place from November 30 through December 4. Seventeen Ma’ayanot freshmen, chaperoned by Rabbi Zev Prince, director of co-curricular programming, three Ma’ayanot college fellows (alumnae Liat Clark, Ariella Isaac and Adina Cohen), as well as NCSY staff members Aliza English and Rabbi Reuven Lebovitz and NCSY advisor Yaffa Sheffey, travelled to Charleston to volunteer and connect with the Jewish community.

“Our students were very excited to participate in NCSY’s 40th chesed mission,” said Rabbi Prince.

“This was NJ NCSY’s first mission to Charleston, South Carolina, and it was one of the most unique missions of late, both in the quality of work and participants,” said English. “Each freshman that joined this mission gave so much to the community of Charleston. They took each chesed opportunity seriously and valued each moment with members of the Jewish community to learn about their rich history and appreciate amenities they may have previously taken for granted.”

The freshmen began by painting Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, a nonprofit home improvement and donation center that resells used furniture, home accessories and building materials to the community. The students also sorted and priced items.

Next they visited the historic Coming Street Cemetery, the oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in the South, dating back to 1764. The students learned about Jews who were members of the Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim synagogue who fought in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. The students also toured the synagogue’s historic sanctuary and museum.

“The trip to the cemetery and shul was really meaningful and very cool,” said student Tiferet Mondrow. “It never occurred to me that Jews lived down south and fought in the Revolutionary and Civil War. These Jews made such a big kiddush Hashem and gave up their lives to fight for our country.”

“It was very interesting to connect American history with Jewish history,” added student Michal Eckman.

On Thursday night, the students had mishmar with Rabbi Prince, in conjunction with their peers back at school. The next morning, they volunteered at the South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement (S.C.O.R.E) Project. Students learned how oyster shells create habitat for fish, shrimp and crabs and help filter the waterways, but because of pollution and overfishing, these habitats have been depleted. The students helped collect and bag oyster shells and helped restore the marshland. “One of the organizers asked if any of the girls was allergic to shellfish and we said, ‘We have no idea,’” joked Rabbi Prince. (Luckily, no one had an allergic reaction.) Moreover, the students had an opportunity to volunteer purely for the sake of giving, without benefiting personally.

“It smelled bad,” recalled freshman Eliana Oshinsky. “But I learned how important oysters are to the environment.”

“It’s definitely not something we would have done in Teaneck, but I’m glad we were able to help,” agreed freshman Ora Hochberg.

The trip also included a visit to the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the site of the murder of nine worshipers by Dylann Roof in June, 2015. The students signed a poster showing support for the community and recited Tehillim on behalf of the people who lost their lives. Roof’s stated purpose in the shooting massacre was to start a race war. “By being there we were doing our small part in combating that hatred and showing our concern and sharing our prayers for a community that had endured such tragedy,” Rabbi Prince told the students.

For many of the freshmen, Shabbat was the highlight of the trip. On Friday night, the group was hosted by Rabbi Michael and Ora Davies of Charleston’s Congregation Dor Tikvah. The rabbi, who grew up in northern New Jersey, spoke to the girls about the challenges and rewards of raising a family in a small Jewish community.

“Charleston was a truly amazing experience,” said Mondrow. “It was the perfect balance of chesed, learning and, of course, fun. It gave me a new meaning to what it means to be a Jew and to keep Judaism alive. I now appreciate my life in a big Jewish community so much more and I will never forget what this trip has taught me.”

Her classmate Gila Linzer added, “I really enjoyed spending Shabbos in a small community and hearing about what it is like. It really showed me how lucky I am to live in a place where being Jewish is so easy.”

On Saturday after tefillah and kiddush, the students led the shul’s Shabbat Academy. They split into four groups and taught Torah to adults in the community. Topics included lessons on Yaakov and Esav, nature vs. nurture and Jewish leadership in the Torah. The girls answered questions with confidence and poise. One of the congregants commented, “I could have sworn they were seniors.”

Freshman Michal Feder said, “I found Shabbos to be very powerful and learned so much from the Charleston community. I’m glad that I got to spend time with the members of the shul and teach them Torah and hear their very interesting ideas that they added to my chabura. During lunch, I sat with a lot of the teenagers of the community and they talked about how it was to grow up in Charleston. ”

Returning home, the freshmen felt that they had received even more than they gave. “The trip really broadened my horizons, and I learned a lot about Jewish life out of the Bergen County area,” remarked Eckman.

Her classmate Talia Adler added, “It was such a meaningful and amazing experience. Now I can bring the leadership skills that I learned in Charleston to Teaneck.”

Mission accomplished!

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