Students at HAFTR High School recently participated in NCSY’s Jewish Unity Mentoring Program, also known as JUMP. The program was held on Sunday, October 23, and Monday, October 24, in Somerset, New Jersey. As a freshman, I was unsure of what to expect, but we were greeted by familiar teachers, rabbis, and NCSY staff who made us all feel welcome. From that moment on, it was clear that this was going to be an enjoyable and productive day; we were going to be focusing on how to solve problems using innovative thinking, teamwork, and informed decision-making.

The first mission was to work as a team and write down seven advantages and disadvantages of being Jewish, and then choose one idea on which to focus. My group was led by Mrs. Sela Wagner, madrichah at HAFTR High School, and included Kayla Jakubowitz, Mia Robinson, and me. After much discussion, we decided as a group to focus on an important issue that we have observed: that it often takes moments of sadness and hardship to unite Jews together, rather than experiencing that achdus in times of joy. This has been at the forefront of our minds, especially after the HAFTR family experienced such a heart-wrenching tragedy this past year with the loss of one of our own students. Whether students were in middle or high school, everyone joined to mourn together. It is our hope that this achdus could be experienced on a normal basis, and not as a result of a challenge. After many hours of discussing amongst ourselves, talking to professionals, and rethinking our ideas, we began to develop a solution to this issue.

Our solution revolved around utilizing social media platforms, such as Instagram and WhatsApp, and other technology to build a sense of community and togetherness among the Jewish people. Recognizing that all sorts of individuals, young and old, gather and share news and events through apps and social media, we knew this was a powerful way to reach our targeted audience. Our initiative began with the focus of notifying Jewish teens in New York and New Jersey about various opportunities to contribute toward and participate in chesed together.

After organizing and redefining our ideas, it was time to present them to the audience and judges on a podcast called “1840.” While it was nerve-wracking, we were prepared and eager to share our ideas. We presented our plan, as well as the story behind our mission, and answered questions for close to ten minutes. I looked around the room and there was not a dry eye to be seen. It was obvious that we connected with the crowd in a deeply emotional way. Each group presented thoughtful and intuitive ideas, but our efforts paid off as we were announced as first-place winners. As the winning group, our efforts will be featured on the “1840” podcast, as well as in Jewish Action, a magazine published by the Orthodox Union. It was an exhilarating and emotional moment for us, and we look forward to using the skills we learned through the JUMP program.

By Julie Schechter