This past weekend, Frisch sent a contingent of 15 sophomores to Omaha, Nebraska, for a special chessed mission that focused on social justice and giving back to the community.
The mission was part of NJ NCSY’s commitment to sending high school students to areas across the United States that have been devastated by natural disasters, as well as those areas with little in the way of Jewish life. Students are charged with helping reinvigorate the communities they visit with tangible action, divrei Torah, and showing what observant Jews who are engaged with the greater world look like.
Frisch students participated in two pre-trip training sessions; the first, taught by Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin, Director of Education for NCSY, focused on best practices for participating and succeeding in the Jewish community, and the second session focused on improving public speaking skills.
The students, who were accompanied on their trip by Frisch power couple Rabbi Ariel and Mrs. Shira Auman (a member of the Talmud department and a graphic designer and student adviser, respectively), got off to an interesting start when their Thursday afternoon flight was delayed until the next, very early, morning, but they made it to Omaha safely and with plenty of time to get to work. They worked with Habitat for Humanity to completely gut a condemned home, smashing walls and windows, pulling up floorboards and clearing out garbage as they wore masks and other protective gear against possible asbestos. They ran children’s programming at the local non-denominational Jewish school and, for Shabbat, students pretty much got to run the entire show.
They created a beautiful themed community-wide dinner celebrating the seven days of creation, with each table decorated to represent a different day, and held the famous Friday night “Frisch tisch.” They also ran the adult education programming, giving divrei Torah and leading discussion on subjects such as tikkun olam.
“It was amazing to watch students transform over the course of their time in Omaha,” said Mrs. Auman. “I saw students who, during the training, were terrified to get up and speak even just in front of their peers, but by the time the trip came to an end, they had stepped up, emerged from their comfort zone and spoke powerfully in front of Omaha’s entire Jewish community.”
Frisch students visited New Orleans earlier this year with NJ NCSY, and, later this year, will visit Detroit to help rebuild the area and the Jewish community of Windsor, Canada, which often struggles to get a minyan for Shabbat and eagerly anticipates visits from Jewish students to enliven the area with Jewish energy.
Rabbi Ethan Katz, Director of NJ NCSY, recounts his particular pride in accompanying and observing this mission to Omaha. “Even though the students’ flight got canceled and they had to get ready at 4 a.m. the next morning for a new flight, I never saw anyone complain,” said Rabbi Katz. “I was beyond impressed by their attitude and motivation the entire time. When we had a stopover in Chicago, we davened shacharit in the airport and everybody participated willingly and beautifully. Both instances were indicative of everyone’s can-do, positive attitude throughout the course of the entire mission.”
The students’ reports after the trip verified Rabbi Katz’s impression. “I really enjoyed spending Shabbos with Omaha’s wonderful Jewish community,” said Hannah Levine ’18. “I loved being able to enhance their Shabbos and bring joy to everyone’s faces, and it also made me better appreciate how many Jews there are in my own neighborhood.”
“The teens were given a unique opportunity to take charge of most of the Shabbat programming, which they pulled off beautifully,” said Avital Moss, Director of Special Projects for NJ NCSY. “The Omaha community was so appreciative to see what strong observant Judaism from New Jersey looks like, and Frisch can be very proud of its students.”