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Friendships and connection to Judaism grow at SJR Winter Retreat

View this story in Jewish Community Voice 


By Bonnie Doogan and Ben Curwin, SJR Mazkirim

South Jersey Region BBYO gathered December 11-13 for our Winter Retreat, a newer tradition for the region that combines our Judaism-focused convention (called Kallah) with the respective Brotherhood and Sisterhood overnight events.

On Friday afternoon, teens arrived to a welcoming Shabbat and convention atmosphere. Being able to ease into a Shabbat surrounded by friends is one of the best parts of SJR conventions. As the sun went down, more and more familiar faces arrived to fill the room, helping to create an incredible start to the weekend.

“Winter Retreat really brought everyone together and reminded a lot of us why we are in BBYO,” said Marlena Penn, a board member for SJR.

With the beginning of Shabbos came the beginning of Kallah. We welcomed Rabbi Nathan to lead us in a very unique service. As we went through the prayers, we went through each day of the week. For each day, we took time to reflect and share what great things we accomplished on each day.

During the rest of the night, we had several interesting and interactive Judaic-inspired activities. We took a version of an online quiz to find out which Jewish celebrity we were each like. In groups, we were given real-life situations Jews may face in day-to-day life and were challenged to think of our responses. Later on, we had an eye-opening program about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On Saturday morning, we had teen-led services that were quite a hit. Rather than having a themed service with one overlying message (typically seen at convention) we had a service broken up into several parts reflecting different degrees of observance. We started off in Orthodox fashion with men and woman separated while the man led us in fast-paced prayer. We eventually merged back to sitting all together. By the end of the service we had men and women leading the service and using instruments in the style of a Reform service. This service was interesting for everyone and we all walked away knowing something new about prayer.

Next, we had some community service projects to be done. Some of the region made sandwiches to donate to Cathedral Kitchen while others decorated T-shirts on teddy bears and made cards to be taken to CHOP. Lastly, to conclude Kallah, we took a tour through “Israel” with mini stations focused on different cities and what they have to offer.

Overall, Kallah was a great success. We were able to learn about and practice Judaism together and individually at the same time. This year, Kallah was all about finding how to love your own Jewish identity and many of us did just that. As the first half of Winter Retreat came to an end, there was still a lot to look forward to within Brotherhood and Sisterhood.

Brotherhood was spectacularly planned and flawlessly executed. All Alephs in attendance whole-heartedly embraced the theme of “How I Met My Brother.” Whether during programs or down time, the guys were continuously bonding and having fun. Highlights of the night included zany skits, Big/Little dodgeball and basketball, and the creating of the Ten Bro-mandents. There was a serious program held on the topic of suicide prevention that brought the Alephs closer together on a more emotional level as well. The regional board led the guys through the history of the Aleph Zadik Aleph and everyone was able to share their own personal history. Each Aleph who went made lifelong memories and found lifelong brothers.

At Sisterhood, we had an amazing time focusing solely on bonding and having quality time together. Through the many programs, everyone enjoyed just being together. Some highlights included a musical Havdalah, a scavenger hunt with our new big/little sisters, and our annual senior program. Every year, the graduating class gets to plan something together for Sisterhood. The Class of 2016 decided to try something a little new and do our very own boot camp. We each reflected on our time in BBYO and decided to pass on some of the key lessons we learned and things we are taking away from the past four or five years. We led underclassmen through our time in BBYO through these lessons and hoped to inspire them to thoroughly enjoy the remaining time they get to spend as a part of this organization.

As the weekend came to an end, anyone could see we were closer and stronger as a region. “Winter Retreat was my first BBYO convention and it was amazing,” said Madison Rappaport, one of our newer eighth-grade members. “The experience I had was unforgettable. It allowed me to become closer with everyone and make so many new friends.”

After Winter Retreat 2015, our appreciation for Judaism and our individual connections to it were heightened. Our bonds as brothers and sisters were strengthened. This convention created many great memories for SJR BBYO.

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