Since arriving, my work schedule has been somewhat loose. Since I'm the first fellow here, there isn't any precedent for the exact requirements and responsibilities of my position. Most placements also have extra added infrastructure to help ground the schedule of the fellow, including established connections with schools, clubs, and program in the Jewish community that the fellow joins and helps run. I have been networking in the Jewish community to hopefully open up opportunities for involvement, but that process obviously takes time and patience. In the meantime, I basically spent my first 2-3 weeks focus on acclimating to the BBYO leadership team and understanding our BBYO chapter, and helping as much as I could to create and run our weekly programs.
Once the chagim started, my focus shifted to creating the first ever BBYO Hungary camp. The other youth groups here do camps, and it's a great way to build our brand and unite our group. Linda (my supervisor) basically told me it's mine to plan, because they want fresh ideas. Although I gave myself about a month to plan the camp, the chagim disrupted any attempts at rhythm or routine in the process. It was also hard to keep the BBYO leadership team in the loop, which worried me because the programs will all fail if they do not know how to run them.
We chose the theme of Storytelling for the camp, and I created a schedule that tried to offer diverse and engaging programming. The camp started Friday afternoon and ended Monday afternoon, so there was lots of time to fill. I created discussions, alternative tefillah experiences, creative sports games, silly programs, and more. Our leadership team did a great job of making any adjustments that would help make things run more smoothly, and then running the programs incredibly well. I ran nightly meetings during which we evaluated the past day and reviewed the following day, and we worked to make necessary adjustments that could make those little improvements that turn good programs into (hopefully) great ones. Watching my ideas come to life in a collaborative and successful fashion was incredibly gratifying.
We had struggled to successfully run a discussion/content-heavy program during our Sunday meetings, yet we ran a few of those types of programs very successfully this weekend. The highlight for me was our Breishit debate. Since it was Shabbat Breishit, which fits in very nicely to our theme of storytelling, I created a program (with some advice from my mom.. Thanks, Mom!) in which the teens were split into three groups, and each given a different Creation narrative. The first group had Breishit 1 (6 days of creation), the second group had Breishit 2 (Garden of Eden), and the third group had Science (Big Bang/Evolution). Each group had to learn the points of their theory, and be able to argue why they believe it is the most compelling story of Creation. I challenged each group with a question that they had to answer on the spot. The conversation ended up getting so exciting that everyone was raising their hands, itching to contribute, and the teens offered thoughtful, articulate, and passionate beliefs and ideas. I had to end the conversation so that we could make it to lunch relatively on time, but I was so thrilled and amazed with the whole program. People filed into lunch still discussing their thoughts on the topic of creation.
On Sunday, we visited Szentendre, which is a cute, old-fashioned town outside of the city. A group of Israeli teenagers on a young diplomats program joined us for the day. The logistics of the day (from transportation to Szentendre--we put our whole group onto a public bus, to the Israeli visitors, to ordering pizzas for our group of 90+) drove Linda crazy (she handled it all amazingly!), but watching our group and the Israeli group have such a great day together was quite special. I also led our new favorite cheer (that I borrowed from the Mishlachat at Ramah this summer) for the whole group, which was so fun.
I could list many more highlights, but overall, the camp was an incredible success. Personally, I feel so proud and relieved. This camp was the most measurable task I have had since my arrival, and I feel truly accomplished to know how well it went. I also finally had the chance to be goofy and fun with the kids, the confidence to address the group (and know that my on-the-spot translators had my back), and to connect with the kids not only through language but through sports, song, and dance. Our Sunday night costume party turned into a big dance/karaoke party with projected YouTube videos, and I never expected I would be so grateful to know Justin Bieber songs.
With the camp behind me, I am now taking a couple days to relax and catch up on a few things I have let slip for a few weeks (like blogging!). Early Thursday morning, I fly to Boston for a Nachshon Project** seminar. Our ongoing participation in the Project includes various opportunities, including yearly seminars. I am super excited to see so many good friends and to be back in the States for a bit! I'll spend two nights after the seminar in New York to see friends, and then I return to Boston on Election Day!
**Nachshon Project is the program I participated in while abroad in Jerusalem in 2015. It is a Jewish leadership and pre-professional program that aims to educate and empower future Jewish leaders and professionals.
The week after that, I head to Berlin for 3 nights for some touring and for a Chance the Rapper concert. So I'll be in and out of Budapest for the next couple weeks, and then will really work to settle into my routine and projects for the rest of the year.
For now, I'm enjoying the time to EXHALE (today is actually a national holiday here, so the whole country exhales with me), and look forward to carrying this high from the camp with me for a long time.