From house visits to Whatsapp Mitzvah Challenges, the hundreds of teenagers who joined CTeen this past summer brought the light of Chanukah to their hometowns and beyond.
The Chanukah lights on the East Coast had already gone out, but two menorahs were still shining brightly on the small Hawaiian island of Kawaii this Chanukah. The candles belonged to Jacob and Talya Gurman, two Jewish teenagers who live miles away from the nearest menorah.
Before this summer, Jacob and Talya had always felt alone during the Jewish holidays. “We felt like the only teens on the island who celebrate Chanukah,” says Jacob. But this July, with his local Shliach Rabbi Michoel Goldman’s encouragement, Jacob had hopped on a plane and joined hundreds of other teens on a CTeen journey through Poland and Israel. This time, when they lit the menorah, they also took a selfie. Jacob posted the image on his CTeen Heritage Quest’s WhatsApp group. He was the last to do so: The teens in the United Kingdom had posted their 10 hours earlier.
Moshe Rembaum from Panama City is also a part of that WhatsApp group. It’s been nearly five months since the trip’s end, but the group is still going strong. “I was upset when the trip ended,” he says, “I thought there’d be silence. But I was wrong. CTeen surprised us with mitzvah challenges, Zoom calls, and pictures of beautiful candles. Although we live in different parts of the world, we’re still connected to each other.” Jacob Gurman echoes this sentiment, “There’s a very good feeling when teens from all over the world are posting menorah pictures together.”
Moshe lit his menorah this Chanukah in Panama and, with a quick ping, spread the light to friends in 7 countries. Esther Gertsik from Stuart, Florida, did the same on the girls’ chat. This Chanukah was the first time she had purchased her own menorah. “I wanted to be the light in the darkness of the world,” she says.
CTeen Summer is a branch of CTeen International, the world’s fastest-growing Jewish teen network. In July 2022, nearly 300 teens traveled to Israel, and another bunch joined the CTeen Xtreme camp in the western USA. Although the trips came to a close in August, the Jewish fire ignited for teens this summer is still burning strong.
“Our end goal is not the summer,” explains director Rabbi Nachman Rivkin, “but to keep the teenagers inspired throughout the year.” He attributes the success of this campaign to his year-round staff, to the counselors from the summer who remain continuously connected with their campers and to the ongoing mitzvah challenges that CTeen Summer promotes on their post-trip WhatsApp chats.
This month’s challenge gave CTeen Summer alumni the opportunity to learn about Chanukah through an interactive online quiz and connect with other teens by encouraging them to share menorah-lighting selfies on their ongoing camp WhatsApp groups. Both parts were a success. But this challenge came with an unexpected bonus: “The teens took this to another level and proudly displayed their menorah selfies across social media. The teenagers were excited to share their Judaism on their personal accounts, a space the average teen is pretty selective about,” shares Mendy Lepkivker, program coordinator, “in effect, they were lighting up the world.”
CTeen Summer makes a conscious effort to keep their counselors and campers connected. This Chanukah, counselors the world over made in-person get-togethers for teenagers in their area. Yechiel Vogel, who was a counselor on the UK Israel Journey trip and currently resides in Brooklyn, returned to his hometown in the United Kingdom for Chanukah, but traveled to a nearby city to light the menorah with his CTeeners.
Mushka Dubrowski, a CTeen Xtreme counselor from Brooklyn, shares that she maintained a connection with Eliora, a teen who lit an electric menorah every Chanukah. “We got together to make donuts in honor of Chanukah. I suggested she buy an authentic menorah that she can light and recite a blessing on,” says Mushka. Mushka encouraged Eliora to purchase the Menorah of her choice and not worry about the cost, the teenager went to a store, handpicked a beautiful menorah, and sent Mushka a picture. Eliora then insisted on paying for it herself—proud of her brand-new Mitzvah. The camper/counselor friendship inspired this young woman to add a mitzvah to her growing repertoire.
A staff member from one of the boys’ Heritage Quest trips describes his own Chanukah meet-ups. As a counselor, he has maintained friendships with the teenagers in his group. This Chanukah, he went to individual houses to light the menorah with their families. “In one home,” he shares, “we stayed until midnight: talking, playing dreidel and keeping the warmth of Chanukah inside. Not only were the teens engaged, but their parents and younger siblings wanted to learn more too.”
“This Chanukah, teens in 17 countries displayed their Judaism proudly and openly,” expressed Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice-Chairman of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, “Entire Jewish families were lit up. Each feeling part of the global Jewish community. The Rebbe taught us not to underestimate summer camp’s power to impact a child, and this Chanukah, we saw that impact reverberate across the world.”
Moshe Rembaum adds, “Thank you, CTeen, for proving to the Greeks that this love we have between Jews is unstoppable. It’s impossible to blow out.”
To find out more information about CTeen Summer, visit https://www.cteensummer.com/
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