Jan 8, 2017
Girls Glow At Leadership Retreat

A counselor at the Jewish Girls Unite Leadership Retreat describes the empowering life lessons and exciting atmosphere at this year's winter retreat.

By a counselor

Being a camper for several years at the Jewish Girls Retreat changed my life. It was now my turn to give back and I was so excited to be a counselor at the JGU Winter Leadership Retreat in Albany, NY. After welcoming the campers, some new faces, some girls who only met at JGU online workshops and others who have been coming year after year, we began to learn the Retreat theme song with our Music head, Chaviva Elharrar.

We sang, “Let’s get glowing, Let’s illuminate the night. Light a spark that always stays, Warm and lit and bright. Today let’s light a flame, With actions that carry on. Legacies left behind, Outlines that were drawn.” We were off to a great start and we were ready to “Get Glowing”!

It was Friday, and we didn’t just get ready for shabbos, first we had a challah baking workshop with Nechama Laber. I have baked challah many times, but never did I compare the process of preparing Challah to growing into a confident Jewish woman. The yeast needs warm water to grow, so too, the warmth of JGU is what enables so many girls from around the world to grow their love for Judaism. We reflected on our mission to unite, as we mixed together opposite ingredients, oil and water, sat and sugar to create a delicious food to sustain body and soul. I began to have a new appreciation for this age old Mitzvah and I knew my campers felt the same way. Here we were, Jewish girls from all backgrounds, but we all felt that we were part of one family.

We gathered together twenty minutes before candle lighting and sang candle lighting songs and shared our thoughts and feelings about candle lighting. Nechama encouraged us to think about the power we have to draw strength from the lights of Sarah to light up the world. This was the theme of our Retreat, G.LO.W - Girls Light Up our World. The feeling of lighting Shabbos candles together with so many Jewish girls, is hard to describe in words. Lighting the candles after a discussion about the beauty and importance of this mitzvah, created an atmosphere of peace and appreciation to the One who created it all. I watched how counselors lovingly helped campers light their candle and this reminded me of our mission to ignite the soul of each Jewish girl during the next few days. Truly, it was the beginning of a Shabbos experience where both campers and staff were being empowered to light up the world.

We entered Shabbos with a drama game led by Basya Feldman, where girls had to pass around an imaginary candle in a creative way. Each bunk was named after one of our matriarchs. The girls, working with their bunkmates, presented skits expressing how they glow like Sarah and Rivkah and carry on their legacy. During the spirited meal, Rabbi Avraham Laber told a story while JGU girls acted it out. Morgan from Long Beach, NY spoke about standing strong like Rivkah, who was ‘A rose amongst thorns’. She shared how JGU helped her grow as a Jew and choose a Yeshiva High School in the fall.

After the inspiring meal, the girls chose a creative club - Drama, Choir or Public speaking with professional instructors, Basya, Chaviva and Susan. Friday night concluded with a legacy Farbrengen where girls shared their own family legacy stories. The evening was dedicated to the memory of Rivka Holtzberg O”BM, who was brutally murdered by terrorists in Mumbai, India. She would say regarding her Chabad outreach work, "Zeh Keif, Zeh Haoneg Shelanu - It's fun, it's our pleasure,” We discussed how we can view our obligations as fun and not a burden. One participant, Tzipporah stayed afterwards to help clean up the dining hall. Her counselor told her she could leave it for the cleaners and she responded, "It's fun, it's my pleasure!"

Throughout the Retreat, we had meaningful discussions and meditations to experience the beauty of the first night Menorah Lighting, prayers and the mitzvot for women. Nechama's guided meditation prepared us to truly understand and feel the meaning of the song Hanerot Hallalu. Activities such as painting with artist Miriam Leah Shaw, a concert with singer, Chaviva, Talent Shows by our own campers and staff, glow in the dark dancing and even snow tubing and the bus ride there were infused with meaning and lessons to empower us to light up the world.

All the inspiration was put into action with a Shining Legacy Workshop on Sunday morning led by Nechama Laber and Susan Axelrod, JGU Leadership Coach. We learned that we can honor someone’s legacy by remembering them and living in such a way that we emulate their lives. Retreat participants learned how to create a JGU Legacy Project by choosing a Mitzvah project in honor of someone deceased. Susan explained that this project is not only Mitzvah training, but also teaches other important leadership skills like public speaking, active listening and critical thinking.

I come back year after year because JGU is a place where every single girl - and I mean this for real - feels accepted and loved, and simultaneously is encouraged to grow. Although the retreat was only 4 short days, so many warm, positive relationships were established. On the last night of the Retreat, we held JGU's signature candle lighting Ceremony, which was filled with beautiful sharing and tears. It didn't feel sad though. Instead, it felt like our hearts were opening up to our own selves and each other, preparing us to forge on through the darkness to be leaders, spreading light back at home and in our communities. We said farewell as we lit the Chanukah Menorah knowing that we each have the tools to GLOW and light up the world.

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Opinions and Comments
I spy..
Miri Tager!!!
(1/8/2017 4:35:04 PM)
JGR is the best!!
Ive been to jgr 2 times as staff and i feel so part of the jgr family. I keep in touch with all my campers who inspire me day in and day out! Jgr is the most incredible thing ever!! I wish it could be all year long!!! I never want to leave!
(1/9/2017 12:00:16 AM)
Go chana yerushalmi
Shlucha in the making
(1/9/2017 12:08:54 AM)
I have been a camper at JGR... all I can say is that I had the time of my life!! They are simply AMAZING in every way!!
Cant wait for the next retreat!!
If you're looking for a camp-JGR is DEFINITELY #1!! :)
(1/9/2017 9:29:14 PM)
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