The Motzei Shabbos segment of the National Teen Shabbaton was a…
Why is 16-year-old Rachel Wilkes on a quest? Or is the answer easily apparent: Why not?
She and more than 80 other teenagers—40 boys ad 40 girls—will travel toIsrael and Poland this summer as part of a brand-new program called “CTeen Heritage Quest.”
“I decided to expand my horizons,” said the 11th-grader from Hollywood, Fla., who attended a CTeen summer-camp program last year in the United States. “I chose to go because I have had many great experiences with CTeen.”
CTeen—the Chabad-Lubavitch Teen Network—was founded in 2008 with a few chapters in select locations, and has grown into an extensive network with more than 200 chapters worldwide connecting thousands of Jewish teens. It offers various programs throughout the year, including social events, regional trips and Shabbatons, including the annual CTeen International Shabbaton in New York that takes place this week, from Feb. 26-28.
It also offers U.S.-based summer camps, and now, the new Israel-Poland program.
“The experiences I engage in and the people I meet will be a part of my life and stay with me forever,” says Wilkes. “I have never been to Poland, which was a huge part of my decision to join this trip as opposed to other summer programs.”
“CTeen Heritage Quest,” open to high school students graduating grades nine through 12, will span the course of 22 days. Participants will leave from New York and fly to Warsaw, where they will spend six days in Poland, followed by 16 days in Israel.
Two separate sessions—one for boys and one for girls—will travel at nearly simultaneous times at the end of July and into early August.
The CTeen Network is inspired by the Lubavitcher Rebbe—RabbiMenachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—whose belief in the power of youth transformed the teen years into a time of purpose and self-discovery.
“Our mission is to provide a nurturing environment where teens can learn about themselves through giving to others, identify with individuals who share the same faith, and be part of a group that focuses on building core values and stresses positive character development,” explains Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, executive director of Merkos Suite 302, the umbrella office of CTeen International.
‘An Incredible Source of Energy’
Summer programs started three years ago with “CTeen Xtreme,” a trip that sets out in Denver and then goes West, exploring sights throughout the states of Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California, explains CTeen summer coordinator Rabbi Nachman Rivkin, who is running the new summer trip abroad.
While some organizations offer Israel trips during the school year, which are convenient for Jewish day-school students, “most of the attendees for the ‘Heritage Quest’ are public-school students,” says Rivkin, who also notes that CTeen programs “reach unaffiliated students in larger numbers than other organizations. We want to bring it to everyone, so we offer it in the summer when teens have time off and everyone can participate regardless, of school schedules.”
Fifteen-year-old Daniel Gavi, a sophomore at Livingston High School in New Jersey, participated last summer in the “Extreme” trip out West. He still keeps in touch with some of the guys he met; in fact, he plans to see some of them at the Shabbaton this week in New York. He’s also planning to go on the “Heritage” trip this summer.
Daniel has been to Israel before—he had his bar mitzvah at the Western Wall in Jerusalem two years ago—but says he’s looking forward to this peer opportunity. He got connected with CTeen and the Chabad House of Stony Brook, N.Y., when his family was living in the college town, and started studying with Rabbi Motti Grossbaum, who serves as program director there.
Hilit Gavi, Daniel’s mother, says the trip is a “perfect balance” for her son: “Daniel is a very critical thinker and enjoys learning firsthand from history. These trips help build and shape Jewish identity. The values that Chabadteaches teens is very instrumental in raising children in this high-tech, secular world.”
She notes that he is excited to go on a new adventure with CTeen and wishes that others from last summer’s trip join him.
‘A Walk Through History’
The groups will spend six days visiting sites in Poland, including concentration camps, Holocaust memorials, Jewish cemeteries, ghettos and synagogues, in an exploration of what was once one of the largest and most significant Jewish communities in the world. From there, they fly to Israel.
Staff members on CTeen trips are chosen for their skills in working with teenagers, according to organizers. Also accompanying the groups will be an emergency medical technician (EMT) and a Chabad-Lubavitch shaliachor shlucha, and where necessary, an armed security officer.
Rabbi Moshe Rapoport, program director of the Peltz Center for Jewish Life in Mequon, Wis., will accompany the boys. He has led four other trips for teens: two in the United States and two in Israel. “Teens are an incredible source of energy, with so much depth,” he says.
“This trip is an incredible opportunity to provide them with real-life experience that can’t be replicated in a classroom or at a lecture,” adds the rabbi. Like visiting the tombs of Abraham and Rachel: “They take a walk through history that is incredible. They’ll live it.”
Rochel Flikshtein, youth and family program director at Chabad Lubavitch of Delaware, will accompany the girls. “It will be an amazing opportunity for them to grow, ask questions and understand themselves better as they discover their roots and heritage,” she says. “The girls will leave the trip with a deeper sense of self, a deeper sense of Judaism and an incredible connection to the other girls on the trip.”
“I really am excited to be a part of this quest,” adds Flikshtein. “I think it will be a quest of our heritage, but also a discovery of self. I’m so excited to explore and learn together with the girls. I’m sure that there will be so many extremes in our experience together—from crying to laughing, bitter pain to joy and dancing. I feel blessed to be a part of this journey, and I look forward to growing along with the girls.”
‘Next Generation of Leaders’
Part of the Poland excursion includes visiting and spending Shabbat at local Chabad Houses in Warsaw and Krakow. In Warsaw, the teens will be hosted by Rabbi Shalom DovBerand Dina Stambler, who run Chabad Lubavitch of Poland. In Krakow, they will be hosted by Rabbi Eliezer and Esther Gurary, who direct Chabad-Lubavitch of Krakow.
The teens, who will tour both countries extensively, will lodge in hotels, though one night in Israel, they will camp outdoors. Rivkin notes that they “will rotate the rooming assignments to provide a better opportunity for teens to meet new friends, as well as to enhance group dynamics.”
In Poland, the teens will volunteer with the Matzeva Project, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve Jewish sites and cemeteries in the country. Volunteer work includes identifying old Jewish monuments or tombstones that have faded, and polishing and restoring them. In Israel, the teens will help pack food or clothing for needy families, and organize or deliver care packages to Israeli soldiers.
And there will be plenty of time for plain old summer fun, including touring, hiking, picnics, camel rides, picking fruit on a kibbutz, home hospitality and more.
“One goal of the trip is to empower teens with knowledge regarding their Jewish heritage—absorbing and understanding the Jewish approach to tragedy, loss and emergence from hardship,” explains Rivkin. That happens as they explore the past and the present of two very different countries. (The teens and staff will engage with these themes during and after camp, he adds reassuringly.)
A byproduct of the experience, he adds, “is training the next generation of Jewish leaders, who can positively inspire and impact the people and environment around them.”
Registration for CTeen trips are in full swing, with scholarships and grants available. For more information, visit www.cteencom/summer.