Yael Chimovitz, right, is co-president of the Berkley High Jewish Student Union.

By Yael Chimovitz, Special to the Jewish News

My sister Shayna, our friend Sophie Hart and I are co-presidents of the JSU (Jewish Student Union) at our school, Berkley High. During one JSU meeting, Rabbi Jason Cohen encouraged the group to take advantage of an incredible program over winter break. At first, I thought, why would anyone want to go on an educational program during their winter break? I needed convincing because most teens my age would run from something like this.

Yet, as a result of that conversation, my sister and I spent our break in New Jersey learning Torah with more than 400 public school teens from all over the U.S., Canada and South America at NCSY’s Winter Scholars’ Program.

The energy on the bus to New Jersey was palpable. We drove to Cleveland to pick up the rest of the contingency bound for the sold-out event. The bus was packed! Everyone was so excited. From the bus ride, I could already tell this was going to be an amazing week.

We spent two days in New York City doing some fun things like seeing the Blue Man Group on Broadway, eating at the Essen Kosher Deli on Avenue J and exploring Times Square. It was also interesting to see a real matzah factory and tour the Living Torah Museum.

Then we headed to New Jersey for the national program. From outside, you could already feel the energy bursting from the hotel. The lobby was full of excited people. We woke up early (not my favorite part) and went to our first educational program. At first, I was reluctant to go but then I figured I should give it a chance. I had a blast!

In my group, we studied Torah and laughed while learning about Moshe and his connection to Hashem. It was amazing to discover how close they were. Afterward, there were activities and some of the most inspirational speakers like Alex Clare, an observant Jew, who broke into the music industry and became a hit.

Shabbat was special. Having over 400 teens, who had experienced an inspired week, is a recipe for an amazing Shabbat. After dinner on Saturday afternoon, we moved to another room where close to 600 people sat in a tight, massive circle for a program, “As Shabbat Ebbs Away.” We sang beautiful songs and heard a powerful presentation from a student and a rabbi. This was followed by a classic Havdalah service that can only be understood by those who’ve experienced it.

This trip has given me some incredible friends and great learning experiences. The power of spending a week with like-minded teens from North and South America who have a true passion for Judaism left an indelible impression on those of us brave enough to try something out of our comfort zone.