Group gathers in Winder to pursue teens’ concerns

By Rebecca McCarthy

Young Judea member Matan Berman hangs out with David Medoff during a Young Judea sukkah building in the fall.

Young Judaea’s board of directors and advisers were trying to pick a place for the organization’s midwinter convention. The event moves to different parts of the country every year “to celebrate different areas, said Sharon Schoenfeld, the director of year-round programs for Young Judaea, “and to spread around the cost of airfare.”

They wanted to hold the convention in the Southeast, where Young Judaea membership has risen, so they focused on the area between Atlanta and Hendersonville, N.C. Young Judaea has a camp office in Atlanta and a summer camp facility in the North Carolina mountains.

When group leaders learned about the availability of Camp Twin Lakes — Will-A-Way in Winder, they decided it would be the perfect location.

The camp serves children with disabilities, serious illnesses and other challenges. It offers weeklong summer camps as well as year-round weekend retreats at three campsites, each fully accessible and medically supportive. It also hosts day camps and hospital-based Camp-To-Go programs.

“We loved the idea of giving money to a camp like that,” Schoenfeld said. “While we’re meeting, we’re also helping sick and disabled children.”

Schoenfeld contacted people in Atlanta to find someone to help with the preparation of kosher food, which isn’t readily available in Winder. Rabbi Avraham Horovitz, a military chaplain who grew up as a member of Young Judaea, will supervise the kitchen.

Nine teenagers from Young Judaea will join young people from the North American Federation of Temple Youth, BBYO and other youth organizations Feb. 12 in downtown Atlanta for the 24-hour Coalition of Jewish Teens.

The next day, the Young Judaea members will go to Winder with 50 or so other teenagers. All are members of Young Judaea’s leadership community, taking part in projects around the county. This weekend, they will elect new members to the national board.

Rather than meet in Atlanta with the other groups, Young Judaea prefers to be separate for one main reason: With the help of advisers, Young Judaea’s national board builds the program for the midwinter gathering, Schoenfeld said. “The teenagers focus on what’s going on with them in their world.”

After the demonstrations against police erupted in recent months in Ferguson and New York, the board wanted to explore the role of Jewish teenagers in fighting racism and to discuss what’s going on with civil rights in America and the world. The teenagers “want to have tools for dealing with racism,” Schoenfeld said.

Dov Wilker, the head of the Atlanta office of the American Jewish Committee, is the featured speaker. A former member of Young Judaea, he will talk about current events and anti-Semitism.

Young Judaea alumni are invited to attend a concert Saturday night featuring Dov’s brother, Noah Wilker, a musician and Young Judaea staff member, in collaboration with another musician.

On Feb. 16, the teenagers will head to a community garden in Atlanta, near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, to mulch and do other work before boarding planes to go home.

Atlanta resident Matan Berman, a ninth-grader at North Springs High School, is an active member of Young Judaea who plans to attend the convention. He said he’s looking forward to seeing friends he met in New Orleans during Alternative Winter Break in December. He and other teenagers participated in community service projects such as making homes more energy efficient, repairing ailing buildings, and working in community gardens and greenhouses.

Young Judaea runs in Matan’s family. His mother, Lauren, and father, Daniel, were members, as were his brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles. His brother was in the Israel Defense Forces, and a cousin just joined. Most everyone has spent a year in Israel with Young Judaea, as Matan plans to do.

“I hope that people from all over know how strong Atlanta has become,” Matan said. “We haven’t been active for a while, but I hope they see how active we are getting.”