Creating a Community of Peers by Francie Weinberg
The most difficult part of any trip for me is the return. I know people care how it went and that’s why they ask, but I always do better sharing slowly, wanting to tell stories as I think of them rather than having to recall a bunch of episodes all at once or brush it away with an “it was great!” This trip was overwhelming in every sense of the word - every experience was intense and consuming. The funny things were hilarious, the sad things were devastating. Even for someone whose baseline communication is hyperbole (if you ask me, it’s never just snowing, it’s a blizzard), everything felt magnified and extreme. This is in no small part due to the backdrop of the trip - a school shooting in my hometown, a school my friends went to, my campers go to and, now, where people I know have died. This is also because, as I have come to learn over the past few years, teens feel everything in an utterly vulnerable, wear-their-hearts-on-their-sleeves way. It is why something that you or I might think isn’t a big deal seems like a huge deal to them. They are not yet numb to the world around them, knowing, like we do, that it’s often easier to tune it out than let it in. I wish I could give you a guide as to how to talk to your teen about this trip, or any experience, really. My advice would be to approach them like an animal you don’t want to scare away: slowly, let them come to you. Talk in soft tones and don’t make eye contact. Just kidding. The stories will come up, slowly but surely. Don’t bombard them with “how was it?” and “what was your favorite part?” Like any intense experience, there is a light grieving process now that it has ended. They are happy to be back, to sleep in their own beds and to return to their routines. But they are also sad. A community formed over the past 2 weeks - we laughed together, we cried together, we shared in each other’s joys and sadnesses. We made sure everyone had enough to eat and water to drink, we experienced new things together and then tried to understand how it felt to experience it as each other. We were pushed out of our comfort zones by and for each other. This group of teens, this awesome, wonderful, oddly matched group of teens, grew to truly care about one another. There is something so profound about creating a community of peers and then knowing that there is a very small chance all 13 of them will be together in the same place at the same time again. Someone always has something that keeps them from coming and if even one person from this group is missing, it isn’t the same. I know as I share stories from this trip, it’ll be like a mosaic: some people will hear some stories, others will hear others. Probably if everyone pieced together all the stories, they’d have a pretty good idea of the experience as a whole, but no one will hear everything because there are individual moments we all need to hold on to in our hearts. There is, however, one wonderful moment I’m ready to share. By now you have all heard about our most recent Shabbat in Haifa - a beautiful disaster. So much sadness and pain and so much pride and joy come from that one experience. But I don’t know if you know about our first Shabbat, the one from that beautiful picture in the desert. It was a moment we’d talked about, Becky, Rabbi Stern and I, how to provide a meaningful Shabbat experience. So often the most profound moments just happen to us, that the task of crafting one is extremely difficult. Nevertheless we made a plan for what we wanted that Shabbat to look like and, of course, that is nothing like what happened. As we sat around the table that night, the trip still so new, bonds just beginning to form, everyone shared a meaningful moment they’d had so far. Their answers, like them, were smart, insightful and funny. The peace in that moment of being together in the vast expanse of the desert under the stars, contrasted with the complete joy in the simple proximity of one another and having a community of their own with whom to share these experiences, was just like the rest of the trip: complicated, beautiful, overwhelming, important. Just like them.