JERUSALEM, IL — Three Livingston teens were among the 13 in the Metro West Area to participate in this year’s NCSY Jerusalem Journey, a month-long trip to Israel with the motto “BEST.SUMMER.EVER.”
By traveling all over the country, the teens were exposed to a variety of activities and places that are often not highlighted on a typical tour. In addition to visiting landmarks like Masada and the Western Wall, the teens also visited Israeli start-ups, toured Israeli colleges, ate tomatoes grown in the desert and more. The program also included discussion-based learning sessions taught by carefully selected staff members with a variety of personalities.
Jayne Tart, a junior at Livingston High School (LHS), said her experience on The Jerusalem Journey (TJJ) was life changing, adding that it was the best summer of her life and has made a daily impact.
“Not only did I learn more about the country and the history, but about myself,” she said. “Recently, I went to Bermuda for a week and I missed home, but while in Israel I never missed my home once because I felt I was home. Not only did I feel safe in Israel, but I felt I had belonged there. I am so thankful that I got to experience the holy land at this age.”
Fellow LHS junior Emily Laschiver said the NCSY TJJ program gave her “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience Judaism in a way [she] never has before.”
“Not only was it an eye-opening religious experience, but also, I was able to make friends who will last a forever,” she said. “This program allowed me to see Judaism and connect to it on a higher level. Following my experience with this amazing program, my religious values and habits have drastically changed in a positive way. I am so grateful for all the sponsors and donors for this program.”
Since returning from TJJ, Laschiver has been lighting Shabbat candles with her mother, Bela, who also visited Israel on a NCSY and J-MAC sponsored trip called the Jewish Woman’s Renaissance Project.
Melinda Fern, an LHS sophomore, said her TJJ experience was incredible, and that she “learned so much about religion and the different layers of it that [she] hadn't known.”
“Also, I gained knowledge about the immense connection Judaism has to Israel while exploring the country in the most fun way possible,” she said. “My favorite part of this summer was floating with my friends in the Dead Sea and also dancing to the Israeli music at Yom NCSY. No doubt, I had the best summer ever on TJJ.”
According to NCSY Metro West Chapter Director Jennifer Romanoff, NCSY is proud of the training that the staff goes through in order to make sure these sessions are run effectively and are engaging. Because the teens come from a variety of Jewish backgrounds, NCSY makes it high priority to ensure that staff members come from diverse levels of Judaism as well.
When the teens returned from their trip, staff members delivered Shabbat candles or Havdalah candles to them for their first weekend home.
“It is so amazing that so many of our local teens are participating in this program,” said Romanoff. “Many of them are recruited from our Jewish clubs we help facilitate in Metro West public schools, and some of them are recruited by referrals. The most important aspect, though, is when the teens return what happens then. TJJ is all about follow up. I run the local NCSY chapter and provide Jewish programming for the teens that went on the trip and that haven’t been as well.”
A long-term study conducted in 2014 based on TJJ alumni showed that 92 percent identify as being emotionally attached to Israel, 95 percent say that marrying a Jew is important to them, and 86 percent believe that it is very important to raise kids as Jewish.
“For those that consider the stats from the TJJ alumni study important, TJJ and NCSY is an amazing way to try to instill these values in your children,” said Romanoff.
To learn more about NCSY summer programs, click HERE. For information on how to send teens on TJJ this summer, or to get them involved in local NCSY programming, contact Romanoff at firstname.lastname@example.org or (305) 332-6036.