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While gearing up for Rosh Hoshanah, CTeen chapters across the country took this month’s theme, “Labels are for Clothing, Not People” to heart, and pledged to reach out to those who are judged and labeled by society through no fault of their own. They found a way to do this through joining up with Aleph Institute, an organization that gives aid to families of incarcerated individuals.
“Though it is obviously painful and agonizing for an incarcerated individual, perhaps the greatest brunt of the pain is shouldered by family members, particularly the children,” explains Rabbi Mendel Perlstein, director of CTeen in New York. “Shocked by the unfortunate turn of events, many family members feebly attempt to pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives. Ironically, at a time when they are most weak and desperate, they are suddenly faced with rejection and labeling.”
Sarah S. was only seven when she watched her father getting arrested. Since then, she has experienced a life of pain and abandonment. It’s the grief of missing his goodnight kisses, of not having him attend her school play. She aches when her friends’ fathers pick them up after school. She’s harassed with comments like, “Your Daddy’s a bad guy,” and “My mom doesn’t let me be your friend.” Sarah just wants to be treated like a regular kid.
After hearing Sarah’s story, CTeen was determined to make these children feel accepted. “We wrote letters to the kids, wishing them a good year, reassuring them that we are praying and doing acts of kindness on their loved one’s behalf,” recounts Jeff Neckonoff, a proud CTeen member. The teens displayed their creativity by opting to send different types of packages containing items like candied apples and notebooks for the school year. When one teen from Florida realized he was paired up with a local family, he contacted Aleph with a request to make a home visit!
“By sending these packages, we show them that we don’t judge or blame them for causing their challenging situation,” says Rabbi Kornfeld, CTeen Shliach of Clinton, NJ. “It was very moving for our teens to write letters to families of those who will be spending the holidays in prison, unable to be with their families. Our teens really connected to the meaning of caring about others and refraining from judging or labeling those who tend to be easy targets as outcasts of society.”
“We can’t even imagine the impact these teens have made by showing these children that other kids their age, and even older, care about them and want to be their friends,” Rabbi Shua Brook, Aleph’s director of family services, points out.
One extremely grateful mother wrote to the Aleph Institute, expressing her thanks. “My sons told me that a 14 year old kid sent them a letter wishing them a Happy [Jewish] New Year and told them to look him up on Facebook. They were so excited! Thanks again for all your help. G-d bless you.”
CTeen is a social environment where teens learn about themselves and their heritage through giving to others and participating in interactive, hands-on activities. CTeen is open to all Jewish teens regardless of affiliation. Visit CTeen.com for more information about other CTeen events.
The Aleph Institute is a national organization providing critical social services, religious, educational, humanitarian and advocacy needs for individuals in restricted environments.