Jared Schnee, 12th grader at Centaurus High School in Boulder, CO
Last summer, I spent two weeks with Mitzvah Corps in the Pacific Northwest. Mitzvah Corps is a program that connects Jewish teens from all over North America with a variety of social justice travel experiences throughout the world. I signed up for a few reasons. First, I wanted to meet new people; I knew a handful of other Jews my age but I wanted to meet more and expand my circle, as well as meet people with backgrounds and ideas that differed from my own. I also wanted to be involved in something active, to do something that would help improve the lives of other people. Last year, I had been involved in planning a program for a NFTY event about the current refugee crisis, and I wanted to do something more, even if it was small, to help refugees. At Mitzvah Corps in the Pacific Northwest, we partnered with the Seattle branch of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to plan and run a summer camp for refugee children in the Seattle area.
Over two weeks in July with Mitzvah Corps, I experienced college living at the University of Washington in Seattle and met more than 30 Jewish teens from more than 15 states. In addition to the camp that we ran together, we went on some great hikes and explored the city of Seattle. I really liked the community we formed at Mitzvah Corps. Almost everyone attended without knowing anyone else, maybe one or two other people at most. This allowed us all to bond without pre-existing cliques, and to support each other. Everyone was in the same boat socially, and many teens had not previously been involved in any Jewish youth programs.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from my Mitzvah Corps experience was seeing first-hand how people can have very different perspectives of the same thing. This became most apparent one afternoon while we were running the summer camp. The US Navy Blue Angels fighter jets were practicing formations overhead, and while I thought the jets were very cool, some of the refugee campers were scared because the jets reminded them of something very different; they made associations between the jets and the constant fighting many of them had left back in the countries they’d fled. While there was so much we had in common with these campers, this moment served as an important reminder of how different the worlds we’d grown up in are, and why the work we were doing was so important. My time with Mitzvah Corps helped me to develop new experiences, new friends, and most importantly, empathy.
For more information about Mitzvah Corps, visit mitzvahcorps.org or call 212-650-4071