This past summer, Jared Rothstein and Jade Marcus, two Temple Sinai of Roslyn students, took part in the Union For Reform Judaism’s (URJ) Mitzvah Corps program.
The program took them from New York to Central America, where the two, students at The Wheatley School, did volunteer work in Nicaragua.
According to the URJ website, the Nicaragua programs, “involve intensive, physical service work in the rainy summer months, so be prepared to get down and dirty. Conditions on the trip are simple, and match the local style of life.”
None of this deterred the Roslyn area youths or those 16 other teens who joined them. In fact, both of them hailed it as a summer that turned into a most positive life-changing experience.
The two co-authored an essay on the trip for the URJ’s Mitzvah website.
“On July 8, 2014, we embarked on a journey with the URJ’s Mitzvah Corps program that changed our lives forever,” the two wrote. “For 10 days, we traveled as a group of 18 Jewish teens from all across America to El Castillo, a tiny village in Nicaragua, where we helped improve their underdeveloped infrastructure. Led by Stephanie, our guide from Central American Service Expeditions (CASE), Mitzvah Corps’ partner in Central America, we met with representatives of both the current and former ruling political parties, as well as local service organizations, to learn what role we can play in supporting the economic and structural growth of communities like El Castillo.
“When we arrived in El Castillo, we felt an immediate connection with the people that lived there, some of the most selfless, caring people we have ever met,” the essay continued. “During our trip, by working to accomplish a shared goal alongside them, we created bonds that remain deep and meaningful. Spending time in Nicaragua during the World Cup Soccer tournament highlighted the ways in which we were alike. A shared love of the sport, friendly competition, and patriotic support of each other’s countries brought us that much closer together, and by day 3, we were already calling each other hermanos (brothers), giving new meaning to the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Through this experience, we realized that no matter the distance, we have an obligation to help each other as familia, mishpacha, family. But Mitzvah Corps, and that obligation, didn’t end with our flight home.
“Before we had even landed back in the United States, we were already generating ideas of ways to continue supporting the community that embraced us with open arms,” the two Roslyn youths added. “Reliving the days of our intensive labor, we thought of the insufficient supplies, broken equipment, and lack of proper gear such as boots and work gloves. Remembering fondly our joint love of soccer, we remembered all too well that they were forced to play the game barefoot on a concrete field, and play baseball with broken bats and ripped mitts.
“By investing in sustainable development, and building everything they need by hand, such as houses, sidewalks, and soccer fields, the residents of El Castillo work hard to provide for one another,” the essay observed. “As part of that community now, we want to continue contributing, and are planning to purchase supplies for them including materials for a storage shed, shovels, pickaxes, buckets, scalpels, work gloves and boots, cement, and wheelbarrows. In addition to construction supplies we would also like to purchase sports equipment, such as baseballs and softballs, gloves, bats, soccer balls, shin-guards, cleats, soccer and baseball socks, jerseys, and caps. We know that by working hard to purchase both construction and sports equipment, we can positively impact the village in the ways that we felt connected to them.
“The community of El Castillo has given us more than we could have ever hoped, and shown us the power of being united in welcoming the stranger,” the two concluded. “We know that our strong, beloved communities back home have the same power, and want to work together to demonstrate that to our hermanos in Nicaragua. By reading our story, you’re a part of that process. And if so inclined, we’d welcome anything you can offer toward the purchase of construction and sports equipment.”
As it turned out, Jared and Jade raised nearly $5,000 for their construction projects.
URJ describes such trips as “an authentic opportunity [for participants] to immerse themselves into the native culture, work alongside local peers, and build long lasting, authentic relationships, while making a positive impact.”
And looked to be the case—and much more—for these two enterprising youths from Temple Sinai.