JOLT Israel
Reflections Post Shabbos….and Beyond!

Shalom NCSY JOLT Israel Family!

I hope this email finds you well. I know it's been a few days since we have spoken last and I really appreciate the outpouring of parents who have told me how much they look forward to my updates. It's been an amazing and hectic few days but I am happy to have some time now to review a bunch of things with you. As we near the end of our BEYOND AMAZING summer together, I am getting inundated by the kids wanting to have DMC’s with me after Maariv (as well as all of our other advisors). As important as it is to me to keep you informed, I think we could all agree that your children come first, certainly when it comes to speaking about religion, personal issues and general self development. 

Everyone got picked up and dropped off without an issue and enjoyed their free weekend. We all (myself, Nechama and our fantastic advisors included) got some much needed rest. The time away gave me an opportunity to reflect on the previous 3 1/2 weeks of NCSY JOLT Israel 2019. I have seen 60 kids from North America move out of their comfort zones, navigate social anxiety and create friends that will last for a lifetime! When I have more than a few kids come over and ask if we really need a free weekend because they don't want to leave our family, I know we are doing something right. When our NCSY JOLT Israel kids chat, blows up on Friday and Motzei Shabbos with pictures of everyone running into each other saying how much they miss one another, that speaks volumes!!!!

Over these past few weeks I have had the opportunity to recalibrate the way my NCSY JOLT Israel kids view themselves and others. I have used different techniques with different kids. Some simply need the attention that they so badly crave, others need tough love, some need to learn how to move out of their own way and still others just need a dose of reality therapy. Everyone has grown this summer and it is evident to me because I see them in concentrated form. We are with them every day, every hour and every minute. We take note of each child as he or she enters the program and together plan as a staff how to work with each one. We track that growth and improvement throughout the summer and Baruch Hashem we have seen tremendous success. In many ways, the kids this summer have learned about themselves as people and as Jews, but they have also learned the importance of looking deeper into other people and how to get along and connect with those who are different.

Many years ago,I wrote an article explaining why growing up in a tiny Jewish community, such as the one that I did, was so beneficial to me socially. I didn’t appreciate it at the time and it was super tough for me in certain ways, especially coming from where I did to MTA in the early 90’s. A real “out of towner” being thrust into a culture that was totally foreign to me. But in retrospect, growing up the way I did, in a class of 17 kids graduating 8th grade and 6 kids in my 9th grade class, taught me how to be friends with everyone. I had to work on finding a way to make a connection with each person irrespective of how different they were. One of the challenges that so many of our kids who come from big Jewish communities have is that there are millions of kids exactly like them. There is no need to move outside their comfort zone and befriend someone different. If I have 30 people exactly like me why take the time to learn about someone different, after all they will also have 30 people in their social circle. Inevitably, never the twain shall meet. What I have tried so hard to do this summer, is to teach my NCSY JOLT Israel kids this important technique, one that I believe will make them truly successful in life. The ability to befriend people who are different and learn how to connect with everyone. If I did this right, and by the way things have played out and the myriad new relationships that have been formed, I think I did, ultimately, all of your children will be the great beneficiaries of this. The caveat to this is that it takes two to tango. One of the other issues that I have been dealing with is teaching some of the kids that they need to be active participants in this process. Some assume that things will just come to them and fall into place and unfortunately that isn’t the way it works. Learning how to be social is a skill like any other skill. Just as with anything else in life we need to practice those skills in order to perfect them. It is true with anything and everything. What better place to learn these skills in a safe place like JOLT Israel. No judgments or pressure,  just a safe, warm and nurturing environment where we can work with everyone in a caring way.   

 My next observation is one that I share with parents every summer because it’s true and I see it first hand. Parents who make their kids nervous all the time, who are totally overbearing and are helicopters do a great disservice to their children. The kids who integrate most effectively are the ones whose parents give their children room and freedom to explore and learn how to navigate situations on their own i.e homesickness, illness, social struggles...... The parents who are overly involved, create an unhealthy dependency and restrict their children's ability to create their sense of self and individuality. While it may make parents feel safer it is harmful to children in the long run. The reason why I address this in a public forum is because it is important for everyone, across the board, to hear this. Additionally, if there are parents who may feel like this applies to them (there are every year) I am happy to give guidance and be a resource to you as part of my commitment to your children’s ultimate health and well being. 

Just reach out and we can begin the conversation. 

Let’s jump into a recap of the past two days. Sunday was great. We made our way from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and started our day at the Palmach museum. I go there almost every year and each time I am further impressed with how well done it is. The interactive story brings the kids into this historic period of time in the establishment of the State of Israel. As someone who is a Jabotinsky Jew, I am always happy when potentially politically sensitive subject matter is presented as factual rather than with a political slant and agenda. After the museum we made our way to Kikar Rabin where we heard about the historical significance of that place and of course the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin. We also had the great Zechus to hear from Dov Landau. The great grandfather of our tour guide Yifat. He is an old Polish Jew, 92 years old Ad Meah V’Esrim Shana, who survived five concentration camps, two ghettos and a death march. Mr. Landau saved the life of former chief Rabbi, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau in Buchenwald and after coming to Israel he fought in Gush Etzion only to be taken prisoner by the Jordanians and put in a Jordanian jail for 11 months! What an unbelievable story of strength, heroism, courage and Jewish survival. He finished speaking and stood up and sang with us. We danced around with tears in our eyes and lined up for Brachos from this holy Jew. After this amazing experience we did the interactive Independence trail. Every kid got an iPad and earphones and followed a trail around the city seeing important historical sights. It was really a very interesting activity. From there we went to Kibbutz Ein Tzurim which is our new home for the next week. 

Monday (yesterday), was awesome!! There was an Omes Chom (Heat Wave)  so we rearranged things in order to fit everything in, in a safe way. We began our day with a trip to the Kibbutz Makolet so the kids could buy water. Some of the kids are still learning, after a billion announcements, that if they don’t drink water they will dehydrate. There is clearly a learning curve for everything :-)…. We are almost there with 100% of the kids complying. GO TEAM!!! After Chaburah’s, we loaded the buses and traveled to the Beit Shemesh area to Chirbat Midras, which are Bar Kochba era underground caves. These caves are as fun as they are important historical reminders of the lengths that our Jews forefathers went to resisting the Roman occupation of our ancestral homeland. During the 9 days, this is one activity that I really believe our kids benefit greatly from. Living the lives that we do and the lives that our kids do, it is easy to lose perspective. We forget the great lengths Jews have gone to preserve Judaism and the Jewish people. Crawling on our arms and legs through dark and narrow tunnels gives us but a small and important glimpse. From Chirbat Midras we made our way to the mall where the kids relaxed in the air conditioning and were given money to buy lunch. 

After lunch we went to Tel Azeka. A high point overlooking Emek HeElah, the famous Biblical spot where Dovid HaMelech fought Golias. It was really a remarkable experience. The view and the overall opportunity to stand on the same ground where these stories that solidified us a nation and a people took place was not lost on us.  From there we split the group up into two. Those who wanted to go biking went on one bus and those who wanted to see a legit demonstration of glass blowing went on the other bus. I was told that the glassblowing was very interesting and it’s not a common activity for kids to see so I am happy they had the chance to do so. I went biking...It was awesome. We rode through the Shfela as the sun was going down. We biked along fields of hay and produce and enjoyed the warm breeze in our faces as we sped along the road. We had an opportunity to break up into two more groups. One group did a more adventurous trip back and the other took the more docile route. We came back to the starting point, returned out helmets and bikes and were treated to ice pops! The simple pleasures in life. When we got back to the kibbutz, we had supper and then came back together at 9:25 for a lecture by Shoshana Keats Jaskoll. Shoshana is an author and women's rights activist. She spoke to us about her good work and the importance of standing up for things that we believe in. The kids were enthralled and taken by her passion and delivery. It was a real honor to have her come speak to us. 

Today is another awesome day. We are down South near Sderot. We are doing the salad trail this morning followed by a Pizur lunch and then some other really awesome activities. I am always amazed when I come to this part of the country at how we have been able to literally make a desert flourish. It is the most amazing thing. The miracles in this country are in plain view for everyone to see.

I am sad to say that our program only has 8 days left together. The kids don’t like to speak about it because who wants to admit that the best summer of your life is coming to an end. I am so blessed that each and every child came with me this summer and has grown in so many ways. I am looking forward to what the next week brings. 

May we be blessed to never see the smiles on our children's faces leave them. May they continue to learn and grow as Bnei and Bnos Torah, lovers of this magnificent country and her people...our people.  

I hope to speak with you soon. 

With warmest wishes

-Rabbi Weinberg

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