Published on February 22, 2012 by Rabbi Sally Finestone
The small living room is crowded, with students and adults sitting together on the two couches, all the chairs, even the floors. They are huddled together in small groups of two or three, each working on creating a beautiful picture. Sometimes the student moves the crayons, sometimes the adult, and sometimes they clasp hands, moving the color over the paper together. In just a few minutes, each team has created a beautiful picture of a floral or geometric pattern. Sounds and comments of admiration fill the room.
Next, a game of charades is played, and once again, the students and adults divide into teams. Some of the adults can’t speak, so the students pay close attention to the non-verbal clues of their partners. Each successful guess by the adults is greeted by cheers and applause, and the students make sure that everyone gets a turn to be successful.
Finally, a song sheet is passed around, an all join in singing several songs from popular culture and classic rock. Most sing, some rock in place, and all clap as the singing fills the small room. All too quickly, the hour comes to an end, and the students and adults say their goodbyes, reluctantly parting until the next visit.
This lovely scenario repeats itself two or three times each month. The activities change, but not the warmth, helpfulness, and excitement of the interactions. And this is just one visit, just one example, of our TELEM program in action.
TELEM: Jewish Youth Making a Difference Together is a new program this year at Congregation Or Atid. For many years, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston has been running TELEM programs at other synagogues and temples, and this year, in response to a growing need of quality programming for our teens, Or Atid joined the list of participating communities.
The concept is simple. For a few hours each month, students learn about Judaism’s approach to the assisting the elderly, to helping those with disabilities, and to fighting hunger and poverty in our community. When the learning is done, the planning begins, and the activities for the next visit are discussed. On alternative weeks, the students travel to one of several selected sites for social service.
Our students have been paired with the Minuteman Center in Concord, which provides housing and support for developmentally disabled adults. Nine adults happily greet our teens for each visit, and interact with them during the one hour visit.
Our teens are guided and inspired by the teacher of TELEM, Hilly Haber. They learn how to be more patient, more understanding, and more flexible as they watch her interact with the different adults. And they have learned well. Watching our teens interact with the adults in the center, one sees the Jewish principle of Gimulut Chasidim, acts of loving kindness, put into practice. One sees the Jewish principle of Ahavat Limud, the love of learning, practiced for all, regardless of ability. And one sees the Jewish principle of Avodah, service to one’s community, practiced with each handshake, each conversation, and each hug.
May the TELEM program continue to thrive, and to include even more teens in our community in the years to come. May our teens continue to learn and create and bring joy to others. And may our teens continue to do their part to make this world a better place, one visit at a time.
Rabbi Sally Finestone is the Rabbi at Congregation Or Atid in Wayland.