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Goal: We endeavored to use the lens of the Holocaust to engage with the Miami Haitian community in the aftermath of the earthquake. On the occasion of Yom HaShoah, we acknowledged the tragedy of the Holocaust and the recent earthquake in Haiti, exposing the students to two examples of human tragedy (one manmade and one nature made). The students had numerous opportunities to compare and contrast the two experiences.

On a weekend retreat, 35 8th and 9th graders worked with Serge Toussaint, a Haitian mural painter, and teens from the Haitian community. (Serge was featured on the Miami news the weekend our teens were with him.) The students then met with Haitian artist Edouard Duval Carrie to learn about Haiti after the earthquake and Judaism’s mandate to “remember the stranger.” (His work is at the Bernice Steinbaum gallery.) Students then joined with a Holocaust survivor to observe Havdalah at the Miami Holocaust Memorial.

Throughout the weekend, our teens had numerous opportunities to reflect on the experience via art, prayer and discussion. They literally left their mark on the murals in Miami by helping the Haitian community with the project. They also celebrated with a Shabbat evening and morning service and an art scavenger hunt on Saturday night.

Explain how the program did or did not help you reach your goal:
Students gained an appreciation and understanding for the Haitian community. Students were able to compare and contrast between natural disasters and man-made tragedies. Students learned the importance of their role in giving a voice to forgotten people, both past and present. Students bonded with each other.

Number of potential participants: all enrolled 8th and 9th graders (approximately 70 students)
Number of actual participants: 35

How did you measure success?
Student reaction to projects and speakers

What did you learn from this program?
Our most successful programs are ones in which students are “doing.” The use of community resources can enhance teens’ experiences.

Is there anything that would be important for another congregation to know if they were to implement this program or something like it?
Seek out unique community experiences for the teens by asking congregants to reach out to their networks and contacts.

How much did it cost the congregation? How much did it cost the participants?
This retreat is part of religious school and was included with the regular tuition charged upon registration. The actual cost, though, was approximately $250/student including, hotel, bus, meals and program.

What were the roles/responsibilities of the people implementing the program?
The program was created by senior staff members (associate rabbi and the director and assistant director of Jewish learning and living) as well as retreat staff (retreat coordinator and chaperones).

  • The rabbi was responsible for worship experiences, leading some of the program as well as (in this case) initial contacts with local presenters.
  • The retreat coordinator was responsible for logistics (hotel, bus, food, etc).
  • Chaperones provided coverage during the retreat as well as leading some of the activities.

This summary is part of the Campaign for Youth Engagement, which endeavors to address the challenges of engaging teens and families post-b’nei mitzvah. To read others like it, search keyword “youth engagement,” and click here for the next one.

To learn more about learning opportunities, contact a URJ Lifelong Learning Specialist. Or to discuss social action and mitzvah corps options, contact Naomi Abelson, URJ Social Action Specialist.
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TEMPLE BETH EL        1483 Households
333 SW 4TH AVE   BOCA RATON  FL 33432-5709
561.391.8900    561.395.8913

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