HOW I SPENT MY WINTER VACATION– STUDYING JEWISH TEXTS
By Allegra Beletskiy
Allegra Beletskiy is a senior at Northwood High School in Silver Spring, MD
Since switching to public school for my last two years of high school I have been struggling to find time to learn Torah and stay connected with my Judaism. Although there were events here and there from NCSY | Jewish Youth Leadership, I wanted more. I wanted to experience a Jewish environment where I felt most comfortable, not alone in my public school. I wanted to learn Torah in the text, to test my reading and translating skills, to understand more about controversial topics such as modesty and shomer negiah (no physical contact prior to marriage). After attending my region’s winter shabbaton, I learned that Yarchei Kallah was exactly the type of program I was looking for and decided to give it a try.
The program was outstanding; it had just the amount of learning that Jewish students at public school needed. The learning session was never overbearing, always keeping our attention. There were seminars, speeches, fun discussions and even some time learning from the text. The mornings and afternoons were my favorite. Each morning for about an hour we would be separated by gender into different study groups to go through Parshat Beresheit (Genesis) in the text with a rabbi. I especially enjoyed this because there was no pressure to be the best at reading; many kids had never learnt how to read Hebrew at all. The environment in which we learned in was calm and accepting since there were many kids who have never opened a chumash. The fact that we learned each point in such depth and tried to compare it to a struggle in our own life made it educational as well.
Learning with the rabbi helped me see where I needed to improve with my reading and translating skills without the pressure of being graded. During the afternoons there were many different types of discussions we could pick from; it was sometimes hard to choose! Each rabbi took a topic that they knew teens struggled with and made it interesting. We discussed topics about love and marriage, even connecting them to famous pop stars like Taylor Swift and Miley Cyrus. One of the main points of the program was to provide a comfortable setting were kids could learn without being overwhelmed with the amount of material to cover. The staff knew that some of the teens participating in this program had never been exposed to Judaism like this before, and if a break was needed it was okay.
From this program I gained the skills I needed to begin more intense learning to prepare myself for my year in Israel. I realized the exact parts where improvement was needed and parts where I wanted to more learn about, purely for fun. Going on this program was much more fulfilling than noshing on snacks in front of the TV all winter break!
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