Standing around over an open patch of dirt, the junior boys are waiting to get instructions from Rob, the gardener. Fourteen white circles are drawn in the dirt, showing them where they are going to plant. Then one at a time the boys take a shovel and start to dig a hole large enough for a plant. Each person digs for a little bit and then someone else rotates in. Sweat drips down their foreheads as they dig these holes on a warm day in May. When all 14 holes were finally finished they placed the plants in the holes and filled in the remaining dirt. This was part of a project created by the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County (HANC) students who attended the fall 2008 Eimatai Leadership Development Conference in Poyntelle, Pa.
HANC students have been representing the school at this conference since its inception in 1999. The goal of the conference is leadership development. It motivates Jewish high school students to make meaningful contributions to their schools and communities. Over the years, Eimatai has inspired students to organize, create and lead various projects. These projects include Jewish social action issues both domestic and abroad. Eimatai, which is now part of the Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future, provides every student leader with the chance to discover what the world has to offer and the opportunity to find out more about themselves as a leader, a person and a Jew.
The Eimatai Leadership Development Conferences attract students nationwide. A series of one-day conferences will be held throughout the country. The next three-day event will take place in April in Stamford, Conn.
At the conference each school has the opportunity to develop a project it wants to implement in their school. These projects are designed to encourage fellow classmates to become more active in their school. The projects that the students create are usually chesed oriented.
For example, in 2007 HANC students developed a project to raise money for Eretz Yisroel. Students sold T-shirts that said, “Don’t leave it to cHANCe” and “leave it to HANC” was in dark bold lettering. The students then tie-dyed the shirt that they bought. Everyone had a great time tie-dying and all the T-shirts looked amazing. HANC raised about $2,000 for Shaare Tzedek Hospital in Israel.
Last year HANC decided to do a recycling drive for all the bottles and cans that students would usually throw away. Recycling bins were placed all around the school. Students learned that it is just as easy to throw their empty bottles into a recycling bin as it is to put them in the garbage.
In 2008 HANC created another project to raise money for Israel, this time for the people of Sderot. This city was under daily rocket attacks and the residents were unable to go about their lives freely. The HANC students that attended the spring Eimatai conference brought color war to HANC. Each team represented a different city in Israel and students purchased a T-shirt of their team color. The day in May was filled with fun activities the students really enjoyed. Each team created an artistic representation of its city on a large banner, which is now hanging at the entrance of the HANC building. HANC raised approximately $1,500 which went to a yeshiva in Sderot.
Most recently, I and other Eimatai participants created and implemented a project called “Looking Beyond Oneself: From Selfishness to Selflessness.” This project consisted of a fun-filled morning in May of chesed. Each grade took part in a different hands-on activity to help illustrate the theme of being selfless.
“I really enjoyed creating this chesed day with the other HANC participants of the Eimatai Leadership Development Conference. It was a great idea and everyone had so much fun,” said Rebecca Rafael, a 2009 HANC graduate.
The freshman girls put together small wooden cars and airplanes models. These models were donated to boys in a children’s home. Beautiful necklaces were made for the girls.
HANC has the unique privilege of residing next to a military base. The freshmen boys heard an inspiring story from two female soldiers about their experiences in the military. The boys then assembled care packages and wrote letters to the Jewish men and women serving in our armed forces overseas.
The sophomore girls made pillows for the Gurwin Nursing Home, which students love to visit. The sophomore boys listened to stories and lessons from members of the Uniondale Fire Department and the Nassau County Police Department, which gave students insight and appreciation for the work of these important community service individuals. After their talk the boys were able to sit in the police cruiser and fire truck and don some of the firefighter’s gear.
The junior girls planted a vegetable garden in order to become environmentally conscience of the world in which we live and to learn more about using natural resources. “I really enjoyed planting the vegetable garden and becoming more aware about the environment,” said Marni Ornstein, a senior at HANC.
The junior boys planted a beautiful garden consisting of 14 plants in order to raise awareness of the 14 teens killed each day in car accidents. The senior boys and girls tie-dyed T-shirts, which were then sold. The $300 that was raised went to a rehabilitation unit for adolescents injured in accidents.
I hope to be able to apply what I learned from the wonderful Eimatai Leadership Development Conference to future projects which will benefit my school and my community. It is my goal to be able to expand on what I have already learned. It is my aspiration to be among the future leaders of tomorrow. I am already looking forward to attending the next Eimatai Leadership Development Conference.
Allison Teitelbaum is a senior at the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County in Long Island.
This article is reprinted from October 30, 2009.Sneakers