The author's school, Yeshiva of Flatbush. Wikimedia

My Junior Seminar

How one weekend pushed me to become more invested in religion and prayer.

On the weekend of Dec. 14, my grade went to the Berkeley Hotel in Asbury Park, NJ for our “Junior Seminar.” The weekend was filled with meaningful sessions, inspirational speeches, fun singing and dancing and memories that will last a lifetime. But what stuck with me the most was getting meet Vera, a holocaust survivor.

Vera was seven years old when the war broke out. She had no food and her mother was constantly looking for work and other ways to help her family, leaving Vera alone for days on end. Each day, Vera would visit the nearby railway, searching for food. If she found anything, she would go home and cook it, but most of the time, she was unsuccessful. At only seven years old, Vera fought immense struggles, including hunger and brutal cold, and more than this, she was forced to take on incredible responsibilities for her family.

Vera told my classmates and me to always believe in ourselves and never give up. That struck me; someone as strong and as brave as Vera is telling me, a 16-year-old girl with insignificant problems compared to her life struggles, to never give up? Her story put my own issues in perspective, while also reminding me to be brave and face my own personal battles head-on.

Following our meeting with Vera, we all shared a lovely Shabbat meal. We gathered together to eat, sing, and recite Pizmonim. After that, we enjoyed Tish, a special time when students in my class shared their own stories about loss and trauma. I admired the courage that each of the students presented as they stood up to speak. I took notice of how, after each speech, nearly every student remarked that relying on God’s works helped them through their struggles, and that moved every single person in that room. We gathered together, sharing a love that resonated throughout our community.

I was so inspired by this weekend. It made me realize how much God does for us by giving us blessings and connecting us with others. That day pushed me to become more invested in religion and prayer, especially when I am in need of healing.


Joanie Dweck is a junior at Yeshiva Of Flatbush. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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