Beyond the classroom, a number of more informal initiatives – including summer camp, youth groups, and Holocaust-education and Israel trips – may contribute greatly to the Jewish education of teenagers and young adults.
‘We’re the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down,” said Michael Polowin, chair of Camp B’nai Brith of Ottawa (CBB). “We take our education role very seriously, not in response to anything that’s going on, but because we believe it’s our mission to do that.
“Six or seven years ago, when the current board assumed its responsibilities, we recognized the need to increase Jewish content,” Polowin said, explaining that CBB director Jonathan Pivnick enrolled in Lekhu Lechem, a Foundation for Jewish Camp “program intended to provide Jewish education for camp directors to assist them in imparting that education to their camps.”
As well, CBB assistant director Cindy Presser Benedek enrolled in the Goodman Camping Initiative for Modern Israel History, a program that educates summer camp staff on Israel-related programming. Several CBB staff members attend the Goodman seminars with her every year.
Shabbat is celebrated weekly at CBB, and the camp has expanded its use of Israeli schlichim (emissaries). Schlichim work as cabin counsellors, run cultural programs and help provide an Israeli atmosphere to the campers.
Visit www.cbbottawa.com for more information.
Several Jewish youth groups are very active in Ottawa.
NCSY, the international youth group of the Orthodox Union, attracts hundreds of Jewish teens per year to its local programs, explained Gaby Scarowsky, NCSY Ottawa executive director.
“Our entry level programs, where we meet Jewish teens, is our network of Jewish Culture Clubs in local public high schools across the city.”
The Jewish Culture Clubs are innovative public space outreach programs that reach unaffiliated Jewish teens where they can be found: in their public high schools. It is an opportunity for teenagers to connect to their Jewish identity, the Jewish community and Israel.
“The Jewish Culture Clubs also provide them with informal Jewish education, positive Jewish experiences, a forum to ask any questions they may have about Judaism, and a chance to meet other Jewish teens in their school,” said Scarowsky.
From there, the hope is that teens join one of a variety of other Jewish opportunities available to them in Ottawa.
“Within NCSY, we offer Shabbat dinners, Jewish holiday programming, weekend conventions to New York, Washington, Chicago, and a local ski weekend. We also have weekly mentorship programs, which allow Jewish teens to pursue Jewish learning at their own pace,” he said. “We also encourage our teens to partake in events in the Jewish community at large.”
Contact Scarowsky at email@example.com or 613-262-6283 for more information about NCSY programs.
BBYO – BBG for girls and AZA for boys – is an international movement founded nearly a century ago for high school-age students.
Gail Lieff, director of Ottawa’s BBYO program, run under the auspices of the Soloway Jewish Community Centre (JCC), explained that BBYO is adult supervised, youth run and youth led. Many of the participants, she said, are not students in any of the city’s Jewish day or supplementary schools, but “want to take part in something Jewish.”
The girls and boys meet separately every week to participate in a variety of programs that include Jewish heritage, community service and social action. Sometimes, the girls and boys do programs together and, three times a year, they get together at conventions with BBYO chapters in Montreal and Toronto.
Contact Lieff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-798-9818, ext. 303, for more information about BBYO programs.
While FROSTY is Temple Israel’s youth group for high school students, Jackie Barwin, chair of the Temple Israel youth committee, explained, “Any Jewish teen in Ottawa in Grades 9 to 12 can join FROSTY. You don’t have to be a Temple member.”
FROSTY meets about once per month and for a variety of fun, social action and religious activities.
FROSTY is part of NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) and participates in several out-of-town events each year, in addition to its own local programs.
Call Temple Israel at 613-224-1802 for more information on FROSTY and the Junior Youth Group.
March of the Living (MOL) is “an incredible education experience,” said Karen Palayew, chair of the Ottawa March of the Living Committee. “I refer to it as more of a journey than a trip.”
MOL is a two-week journey to Poland and Israel for high school students. The first week is spent in Poland visiting
towns where Jewish life thrived before the Holocaust and some of the sites where atrocities took place. The actual March, from Auschwitz to Birkenau takes place on Yom HaShoah. The second week is spent touring Israel, marking Yom Hazikaron and celebrating Yom Ha’Atzmaut.
“Participants start preparing in January before the MOL with eight educational sessions,” said Palayew, who is also co-chair of the Coast-to-Coast contingent, which comprises all the smaller Jewish communities in Canada that send students on the MOL. “The students are well prepared from an educational perspective and they become a tightly knit group even before they leave on the trip.”
She said the most important part of the experience is that the students travel with a Holocaust survivor.
“When they sit down and listen firsthand to a survivor, that story becomes ingrained in them,” she said. This brings comfort to the survivors, knowing the students will take on the responsibility to ensure that these stories are never forgotten.”
The MOL committee encourages participants to become involved in the community after their return.
“They have been involved in Holocaust education at their schools, their shuls and community events. Hopefully, it will become a lifelong commitment,” Palayew said.
The next March of the Living trip will take place in early May of 2016 for students in Grades 10, 11, and 12. Call Benita Siemiatycki at 613-798-4644 for information.
Taglit-Birthright Israel trips make a huge difference in the lives of the university students and young adults who take them.
“We at Hillel see that participants come back more engaged in Jewish activity in their daily lives,” said Scott Goldstein, executive director of Hillel Ottawa, which is responsible for Birthright recruitment in Ottawa. “The trips really influence these students for years and years, and most likely the rest of their lives.”
Canada Israel Experience, the Taglit-Birthright Israel trip organizer in Canada, sponsored in part by the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, gives Jewish young adults the opportunity to visit Israel for free. Participants must be between 18 and 26 years of age and no longer in high school.
While there are not enough spaces to accommodate all applicants, Goldstein said Canada Israel Experience makes sure as many Ottawa people as possible can get on the trips.
“Students go on these Birthright trips for a variety of reasons,” he said. “Some are going just because their brother or sister did it, some want to connect to their heritage, experience the culture and connect with more Jewish friends. Some just go because they’ve heard so much about this place and are going for an experiential journey that connects them with Judaism.
“It lets them have a personal connection with Israel in a way that’s meaningful for them. ”
Visit www.israelforfree.com for more information.