By Akiva Frishman
At a Jewish-owned farm and retreat center in Connecticut, 27 young women participated in Yachad and Yeshiva University’s High School for Girls’ Annual Leadership Service Mission, a two-day day trip that focused on chesed, the environment, and tikun olam. From April 7-8, participants from both organizations came together, demonstrating the unique opportunities afforded by inclusive community service experiences.
To kick off the mission, participants met at the Queens JCC to help arrange Pesach food packages for families in need. The group learned about their neighbors and fellow Jews who were in financial hardship and were inspired to play a role in uplifting their Pesach. Shoshana Levine, a YUHSG student, remarked, “There are so many ways to be involved and do chesed, inclusively. I really learned that through this project.” In total, the group arranged over 1,000 packages.
The importance of nature played a major role throughout the mission. At the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center, the group not only learned about ecologically friendly agriculture but were directly involved in the process as well, farming organic vegetables, composting, and helping to protect vulnerable plants and trees. Chana Brukman, a member of Yachad, was particularly fascinated by these activities, saying, “It’s great to be out in nature and get to work with the earth.” Avigayil Gordon, a YUHSG student, agreed with her new friend, Chana, remarking, “Composting was definitely one of my highlights.”
Yachad’s group leader and director of informal education, Rebecca Schrag Mayer, wanted participants to walk away with a stronger understanding of how respect for the environment can be seen from a Torah and Jewish lens. Participants prayed overlooking serene landscapes and the group discussed Torah ideas that touch on one’s responsibility towards G-d’s creations.
The service mission included many students who have demonstrated exemplary community activism and the program’s curriculum stressed leadership development to further hone their skills. On the first night of the trip, the group was joined by Black Box Studio, a theater workshop company, who held a session entitled “Leadership Through Laughter, discussing the role of improv comedy in creating confident and flexible leaders.
Above all, the experience proved, once again, that inclusive chesed projects that maximize each person’s abilities produce meaningful results. Etty Weschler, a student at YUHSG, was moved by how quickly the group came together to make a difference, explaining, “My classmates and I instantaneously bonded with all of the Yachad participants, forming deep friendships.”
Mrs. Schrag Mayer added, “While our time together was quite scheduled, it was the meaningful social interactions between our Yachad members and the students from YUHSG, during downtime, that stuck out to me.”
Laura Fruchter, the sophomore grade dean at YUHSG and its director of academic support, stressed “how amazing it was to watch our students join forces with Yachad participants in a shared mission to do chesed, improve the environment, and promote leadership.”
Yachad, The National Jewish Council for Disabilities, is an international organization dedicated to addressing the needs of people with disabilities, ensuring their participation in the full spectrum of Jewish life. Through programs like its annual Leadership Service Mission as well as over 25 summer programs and over 100 Shabbatonim throughout the year, Yachad strives to create spaces in which every person belongs.