An energetic corps of area teens chose to spend the afternoon of Sunday, April 17, “repairing the world.”
They were not alone; more than 11,000 Jewish teens took part in J-Serve, the International Day of Jewish Youth Service, in communities around the globe. Sponsored this year in partnership with Repair the World, Youth Service America, and BBYO, it is a day when young people perform mitzvot and acts of tzedaka to “give back” in their communities.
Locally, a record number of 250 teens took part in J-Serve, which included 11 different service projects. The event, on the Aidekman campus in Whippany, was an initiative of JTEEN-GMW organized by The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life — the identity-building organization of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
The program, made possible through grants from BBYO and The Cooperman Family Fund for a Jewish Future, included teens representing JTEEN-GMW, BBYO, Iris Teen Tzedakah Program, Diller Teen Fellows, and the JCC of Central NJ’s Teen Action Service Corps as well as local chapters of NCSY, USY, Young Judaea, NIFTY, and other youth groups and synagogues from the Greater MetroWest region.
The 20 teen leaders who served on the J-Serve committee led group “icebreakers,” conducted Jewish text study related to their service theme, ran the service projects, and moderated wrap-up sessions.
Several of the service projects tied in with Passover: packaging holiday gift boxes for the elderly to be distributed through Jewish Family Service of MetroWest and JFS of Central NJ; decorating afikoman bags and seder plates with teens with special needs and adult clients with developmental disabilities from JESPY House, to accompany the JFS donations; and creating haroset and scrapbooking Passover memories for residents of the Lester Senior Housing Community on the Aidekman campus.
Other activities included painting socks for hospitalized children; creating “feely hearts” for youngsters who have experienced loss; packaging toiletry bags for the homeless to be distributed through Bridges Outreach; participating in the “Buddying It Up” program with 40 adults involved with Cerebral Palsy of North Jersey; and taking part in a domestic violence intervention and training seminar run by the Rachel Coalition.
A service expo at the start of the event included representatives from 10 organizations seeking volunteers. Also featured were a Krav Maga self-defense course and drives for canned goods, hametz, and clothing drives for those in need. The Diller Teens contingent from Israel led folk dancing and played music to welcome the participants.
Alex Jackman, now 16, who created the YouTube video “A Teen’s Guide to Autism” at age 13, closed the event with a talk on how “ordinary teens can make an extraordinary difference.” “Don’t forget,” she told her J-Serve peers, “you have the ability to do a whole lot more, and make a much more positive change than you might think.”