Friday, November 16, 2012

Cohort 4's First Shabbaton!

The Diller Teen Fellows of Cohort 4 have reflected on their first Shabbaton, which took place from November 9th-11th, 2012 at Camp Grotonwood in Groton, MA.
Andrew Jacobson (Swampscott): Let me begin me making myself clear: Although I knew many of the people mostly by name, before attending this amazing shabbaton, I was not really friends with anyone in Diller. After just a short 48 hours, I consider all 19 other fellows my best friends (yes, even better than school friends). It feels like I’ve known them my whole life. We are already planning events to see each other outside of workshops! Just this past sunday, it was Kineret’s birthday. Despite the fact that it was the day after the retreat, a bunch of us grabbed the chance to meet up and get some froyo in Newton. Living on the North Shore, it was just too far for me to show up. Diller is such a unique and special experience that I am honored to have given the opportunity to participate in it. Unlike anywhere else, I can share my controversial opinions, and know 100% that they’ll be included. Each and every one of us share a strong bond that isn’t present anywhere else in my life. By browsing the photos on Facebook, this is extremely clear. Everyone is truly accepted for him/herself. This is the most remarkable aspect of Diller. In this day and age, it is rare to find a place like that. Whether you’re at school, or even an extra-curricular, trust is difficult to come by. Here, I can genuinely trust anyone with anything. This may not seem like a big deal, but as teenagers, it is. A lot of people might ask: What caused this everlasting friendship? There are numerous answers to this questions, but it all boils down to outlook. Walking into this program, we were all optimistic, hearing about the wonderful things to come. Now that it’s a reality, we embrace Diller, and allow it to become the largest part of our lives.
Liza Sherman (Needham): Something we did this weekend right before leaving the camp was an activity called the appreciation box. Into the box each fellow put anonymous note cards addressed to somebody or a group of people who they appreciated for any reason. Some note cards were thanking each other for funny things said or shared inside jokes, but others were truly kind and showed the deep connections that people had formed over just the 48 hours we spent together on our retreat. These cards helped to show how each person of our cohort was truly important and helped benefit the group in their own ways. This appreciation box was a great way to close our retreat and sum up the overall great weekend we had together. Never did I expect how deep the bonds and friendships we all made this weekend were going to be. This weekend was a truly special experience that I have never had before and already we all share deeper connections than others I have made with people I have known for years.
Julia Habbe (Sharon): On Saturday night our JCs (Andrew and Liat) led our magaal. The fellows were told to report to the main room at night with something to blindfold ourselves with, and that was all we knew of the plan. When we arrived, Andrew and Liat made sure our eyes were covered and put us into a line holding hands. From there we were led in a silent trust-walk through the woods. This was such a bonding experience in that none of us knew who we were following, where we were going, or how long it was going to take, but we trusted each other enough to keep going. After that the experience got even more intense as we were led into a dark gymnasium (although we didn't know it at the time!) and separated. We were given two glow sticks and told to remove our blindfolds. Then Andrew and Liat asked us our goals and biggest fears. When we had something to say, we cracked our glow sticks and said it to the group. It's indescribable how connected we all felt watching the glow sticks slowly light up in the darkness and hearing each other's fears and desires. Once everyone had spoken we ran to hug each other and that was the moment, for me at least, where Diller really began to feel like a family. These kids that had been strangers only hours before now felt like people I could trust to lead me in the right direction and to trust with my secrets. I know I'm speaking for everyone when I say I'm counting down to our next Shabbaton!
Hannah (Newton) & Noam (Needham): This past weekend we had our first retreat! It was amazing for all of us to spend a solid 48 hours together and really bond as a group. There were too many amazing programs and moments to list here, so we will just mention a few. At our first workshop we created a list of ten different qualities we want to have as a group. We had a “Chalk Talk” (actually a Marker Talk, but that doesn’t sound as fun), with each trait on a piece of paper. After being given a marker, we walked up to the papers and wrote times during our retreat where we saw them in action. Later that evening, we did a trust walk where each person, blindfolded, was placed in a line and instructed to hold the hand of the person next to them. With a staff leader and a few called out direction (“There is a tree of your left, and a puddle on your right”) we made our way slowly through the woods, putting all our trust in the person leading us. Reaching the gym and walking down a flight of stairs, we were separated, giving us a sense of trusting each and every person, as we did not know who was in front of us. We were placed spaced out in the pitch-black gym and given glow sticks to crack as we answered what our goals, and then fears are for this year. Then we had a campfire with s’mores! This activity was part of that night’s Maagal Lila, a circle we do every night. These times are when we learn more about each other as people, and not just our religious practices, or opinions on today’s controversial issues. The best part? Maagal Lila ends with hugs for everyone! There is no way to explain how close we have gotten with these people without us pretty much melting into a pile of goo, explaining how much we love them. None of us realized on Friday that we were more or less still strangers to each other, and within about 2 hours, that had changed. Living in such close proximity, as well as being Shomer Shabbos (keeping Shabbat) allowed us to develop relationships that made us not want to leave on Sunday afternoon. None of us really know how that happened, we just know that it did, and now we are all best friends. We can’t wait for our next meeting!
Emily Wood (Westford) Imagine 20 Jewish teens from multiple different backgrounds those of which barely know each other. Now imagine them putting aside their differences and discussing highly disputed topics with respect and understanding towards differing opinions. Well, that’s exactly what happened on Cohort 4’s first retreat last weekend. For two and a half hours straight the Diller teens discussed topics ranging from kosher foods to who should have to serve in the Israeli army. This activity was named the jellybean activity. The way it works is that different topics get written on cups and each teen would put a different color jelly been in the cup depending on where they stood on that specific issue. As the issues got harder the group felt increasingly more comfortable in expressing their opinions. When differing opinions started to become more apparent, the group talked about both sides of the argument and was able to move on. At the end of the activity a new sense of understanding and respect was apparent and in following discussions this same respect was demonstrated. The jellybean activity was one of the highlights of the retreats and cohort 4 really benefited from doing it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thursday, May 3, 2012

My Moment

Some say that you can pinpoint a moment in time when your life changes; my “moment” was spent with rocks, rubble and rifts between two countries which I will hopefully see stand together one day. I believe I embodied what the JCC Diller Teen Fellowship was as I sat in the rubble of a Palestinian bomb that had detonated only three months prior to our trip in December of 2010. As I looked on with 18 peers, a medic, four staff members and an Israeli tour guide, my thoughts raced through my mind. I looked up towards the 20 feet of vertical concrete above me, separating Israel from the Palestinian border in Jerusalem. I saw two countries, two different beliefs, and yet one human race. Suddenly the Muslim call to prayer flooded our ears as it poured out of mosques in both Jerusalem and Palestine, and all that was left for me was the reality of who I am. The Fellowship gave me the power and sense of mind to challenge what I feel is unjust and necessary to change.

Growing up in Scituate, a suburb of Boston with a very small Jewish population, I never thought that one day I would become as involved in the Jewish community as I have. Not only am I involved, but programs I have participated in, including a JCC Diller Teen Fellowship have impacted every aspect of my life. More specifically the fellowship led me in the direction to a Jewish identity. One could say I was a bit lost in the Jewish world between the years of my Bat Mitzvah and the beginning of Diller. It’s not to say that I found my place in Judaism, but I seemed to have found Judaism’s place in my world. Being among few Jews in my hometown  made it difficult for my Jewish identity to grow, but it was a challenge I was more than ready to except. 


The Diller Teen Fellowship is an international youth leadership fellowship available in 16 North America and Israel cities. Each city is paired with a “sister” community in Israel; the JCC Boston Diller Teen Fellowship is partnered with Haifa. The program consists of seminars, service projects, retreats, an Israel trip, and hosting our Haifa peers back in Boston.


Coming home from Israel I felt more connected to my people than I had ever before. I had created bonds with the Israeli teens in the Boston-Haifa partnership that I knew I would maintain and nurture. I also felt an incredibly strong and, most importantly, personal connection to the land and the State of Israel that I would never have been able to develop through any means other than visiting the country.  

In order to practice my Judaism and become more a part of the community I was forced to go looking for it. After my Bat Mitzvah I made the decision that Judaism needed to be a larger part of my life. As I stood on the Bima and read the Torah to a synagogue full of the people closest to me, very few being Jewish, I realized this was a part of myself that I needed to explore. As most teens spent the years post Bat Mitzvah navigating adolescence, I went searching for a Jewish community.  I began to make the trek to Prozdor at Hebrew College. From there I found the JCC Diller Teen Fellowship.


The application process was very competitive but I was determined to be a Fellow. As clich√© as it may sound, it really is who I have become. It was with Diller that my Jewish life combined with the secular life I had been living Scituate. This fellowship is not a “do it and leave it” deal, but more of a “do it and live it.” The community that I stumbled upon has become a family, and a place where I have not only been able to grow, but watched my peers find their paths through these exciting and sometimes tough high school years.


-Brynn Pollets

Scituate, MA

JCC Boston Diller Teen Fellow 2010-2011

Junior Counselor, 2011-2012

My Path to Leadership in the JCC Boston Diller Teen Fellowship

Throughout my JCC Boston Diller Teen Fellowship experience, the word “leader” has become more meaningful and relatable. In March, our Boston-Haifa Diller cohort of Fellows had the unique opportunity to run a Shabbaton (weekend retreat) completely on our own. This “Self-Management” weekend meant that 40 teenagers from across the globe were working together to run our own Fellowship experience for the weekend. 

At first we were all extremely excited; this opportunity had rarely been given to other Diller cohorts before, and it was incredible to be given this much responsibility as teenagers. We all had to figure out how a group of teens, Americans and Israelis, were going to put together a whole weekend of activities and achieve our goals for a successful Shabbaton. Once the reality of planning and preparing set in I realized how extremely hard I would personally have to work to be successful; everyone’s efforts mattered and people were relying on me.

Time differences and cultural barriers proved to be quite challenging!  In creating the closing ceremony, our greatest challenge was making a schedule that would work with the time we had.  It was difficult to communicate with the Israelis because of logistical issues, but we finally all decided together what exactly we wanted the closing ceremony to include and then the Americans set the time frame for each part of the ceremony. 

Following that, we faced another challenge; what we wanted to say.  The challenge here wasn’t so much having trouble discussing, but rather deciding what we would talk about out of all the amazing experiences we had.  In Diller we are given so many unique opportunities and experiences that choosing one to share is almost impossible.  To solve our problem, we asked several fellows to talk about an experience that was especially meaningful to them, as well as a challenge they face and how they were able to overcome it, to really show the differences in people and the differences we can make. 

 In the end, we were able to organize our ideas and programs to implement a successful (and very fun) weekend, and to reflect on the difficulties that came from working across the globe with our Haifa friends. I have realized that being a leader offers both challenges and opportunities, and no matter how difficult a challenge may seem to overcome it is important to never give up and have faith in yourself and the people around you.  The staff completely stepped back and allowed us to shine that weekend and gave us space to face our own challenges as mature, growing leaders.  We still all have space to grow, but we are definitely on the right path to be the best leaders we can be. 

-Sierra Weiss, age 15, Newton
JCC Boston Diller Teen Fellows 2011-2012

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Diller Experience

By Julia Ellis

Age 15

Westwood, MA


“Any last questions?” It was June, 2011 and I was a freshman interviewing for a place in the 2011-2012 Boston Diller Teen Fellowship cohort. I knew that many other Jewish teens had also been racking their brains: some were thinking in English, others in Hebrew, Amharic, and even Spanish, but we were all thinking along the same lines... What can I say to stand out?  We were all determined to reserve a spot for ourselves in next year’s Diller Teen Fellowship. From 16 cities: eight North American, eight Israeli; twenty young teens would be selected to engage in a pluralistic, national, youth leadership fellowship. They would be selected based on leadership aptitude, commitment to Jewish learning, interest in exploring their connection to Israel, and passion for serving their community. I looked around the room and found solace in the familiar setting. I myself had spilt grape juice on the conveniently purple carpet of the JCC on many Shabbats past throughout my childhood. I had grown up in this building and felt an overwhelming sense of nostalgia to be back. I had not however, been in the building for years. Just like riding an old bike, sitting down in the JCC to talk about my Judaism was something that I could never forget how to do, the seat just felt smaller. The Jewish Community would always be behind me and as I grew older I would adapt new perspectives of it.

Sitting in the interview, I did not realize how much my perspective was about to be altered, and I am not merely talking about the fact that all of the furniture had seemingly shrunk. “Any last questions?” I asked about school. Would Diller affect my grades? After hearing of my acceptance into Diller, the question became more real to me. Thankfully, I decided to give this Diller thing a shot and this “last question” about school was not to be my last question with the fellows, but rather my first. This last and first question would be one of many that would force me to reflect upon myself in a deeper level than I ever had before. In this instance, it forced me to get out of my routine bubble of Westwood High School and evaluate a world of opportunities being offered to me: would I continue on oxymoronically admiring the Jewish community all alone, or would I make time to truly be a part of it? 

                I became an official “Diller”, the best decision I ever made. I received a list of names of the other fellows from Boston in the mail and stalked each one on Facebook that day (I must confess). Depending on their privacy settings, each person was to me anything ranging from a single profile picture to perhaps a plethora of pictures, but nothing more. Now, of course, we’re all friends on Facebook and in real life, or as I would prefer to refer to them, we’re mishpacha. I’m not going to try to fool anyone in saying that our unbelievable closeness was instantaneous. We had a series of awkward meetings in September(which we now base the brunt of our jokes on) before we were able to attain the level of closeness that we have today. All jokes aside, learning how to clear one’s throat and just speak up during an unbearable hiatus in conversation is a useful tool for any leader.

                We later used this tool in the Israeli seminar in December. After becoming so close with our Boston group, we were at first a little apprehensive about whether or not we would be able to form lasting friendships with Haifa teenagers. A pre-Diller Julia would have hesitated to introduce myself to anybody, but just a few months of programming urged me to leave my comfort also helped that we were about to be locked in Beit Yehuda Guest House, Jerusalem with them for seventy-two hours. There were two other groups of fellows from Cleveland and Beit She’an joining us for congress. Congress consisted of a series of back to back lectures and reflective sessions on the controversies of Judaism. Being thrown into a group with forty more people caused our Boston-Haifa group to cling to each.  With the support of our friends we were able to overcome our anxiety about the larger group and ultimately become one large group. I did not mean to place a negative connotation around the locked doors of Beit Yehuda, I would not have preferred it any other way, for inside those doors was the back drop for three of the most challenging, most rewarding days of my life. In those days, besides learning that sticking the sharp end of a name tag into your hand during a lecture was a perfectly good substitute for approximately five hours of missed sleep, I learned how to listen, learn and lead. Ultimately, that’s what Diller has taught me: first, to listen in on everything that I possibly can, second to filter all of that information into something useful and third, to lead peers in that. For example, we listened to many speakers such as Ofer Bavly about the politics of the Middle East, or Parents Circle which is a grassroots organization of bereaved Palestinians and Israelis promoting reconciliation as an alternative to hatred and revenge. Before that, I had listened to the differing views of Jews and Arabs alike back at home. I had never known what to do with the things I had been hearing, but I now have the tools to learn from them and have been leading discussions amongst many of my Arab and Jewish friends since I have arrived home from Israel. In fact, we are working towards creating a school club with similar purpose to that of the Parents Circle.

                Already, I had shared so many irreplaceable and unique experiences with our Israeli counterparts. Together we had herded sheep on the rolling hills on the outskirts of Jerusalem, volunteered at a school for mostly Russian and Ethiopian Immigrants, stumbled over ourselves trying to learn Ethiopian dances at Yemin Orde, danced and played bingo at an elderly daycare, repaired the forest atop Mount Carmel, rode camels in a Bedouin village, ate a traditional Druze meal at a Druze village, and tried to bargain on Ben Yehuda Street. But we were about to embark on another significant journey together: the North American Seminar.

During the North American seminar, we hosted the Israelis and were able to reciprocate their hospitality for us when we were in Israel. The Haifa Diller Fellows stayed with us and forced us to take a closer look out our own lives. Having the Israelis in my own home brought me to notice things about my own community that I had never looked close enough to realize before. (I can’t believe I never noticed that the door handle at my local Dunkin’ Donuts was in the shape of a “D” until the Israeli girl who stayed in my home, Shachar, pointed it out for me.) Shachar’s family was constantly video chatting with mine and we have truly formed mishpacha in the process of exchanging each other’s cultures. A  seder plate given to us by Shachar was on the table during our Passover seder this year; I am sure that this will become a tradition. Bringing Shachar and another Haifa Diller Fellow, Maytal to school with me was an especially unique experience. I was very nervous for Maytal, who is Shomer Negiah, (she cannot touch members of the other gender until marriage) to meet all of the male figures at school. I was figuratively touched by her literal willing to touch when she shook the school Principal’s hand, an immense act of respect. Shachar and Maytal did a fabulous job of representing Israel proudly in a school with no more than twenty Jewish students (Westwood High School). The Israelis educated Americans about their own culture just as much as they learned about American culture while here. After getting through more than a full school week of balancing Diller programming and homework, we all spent the weekend at Friendly Crossways retreat center in Harvard, MA, engaging in programming completely and solely organized by the Boston-Haifa cohort. My job was to organize the Final Event at the end, a presentation to show off our Diller family to our families and also to thank many generous donors who made this experience possible. Organizing the event and other aspects of the retreat was very challenging, especially since most of it was done online approximately 5,400 miles apart. But we were more than successful.

                Diller’s final Tikkun Olam (“repairing the world”) project encourages us to use the skills that we have accumulated throughout the year. Personally, I hope to revolve my project around a township near Capetown, South Africa, a place of extreme (and extremely undeserved) impoverishment, a repercussion from Apartheid. I stayed near Langa for a month this summer touring with a chorus. This is a place that I think of every single day of my life, yet I would not have had the courage or organizational skills to develop my passion into something that would make a difference without having been a Diller Teen Fellow. I am now confident that in our Tikkun Olam portion of the program, I will be able to satisfy that hunger to help make Langa a better place. The official programming “ends” next year, and I am no longer a timid freshman too preoccupied with the color of the carpet in the JCC to speak up and make a difference. The actual end of Diller, however, is nonexistent. We have already all fantasized of pooling our money together and living in one house as we grow up, but even if that does not happen, many of us will probably continue to be in contact throughout our adult years on paths that have been forever changed by the amazing opportunities in which Diller has opened up for us. 


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Flight Info


The wireless in the airport is not very good. Please feel free to log onto and go to the check flight status tab on the left side of the screen. Once on this screen you can type our flight number 0231 .... Please plan to be at the JCC around 1 and half hours after our scheduled land time. Your kids will tell you a more exact time once we have landed and get to the bus. Thanks so much


Amsterdam Airport

Hello from Amsterdam!

We are currently in the airport! Our flight has been delayed to 1:35 as of right now. We will hopefully give you an update as soon as we know. The kids will make phone calls once we have landed in Boston!! We cant wait to see you!


Hello From Airport

Hello from Ben Gurion airport! 

It is currently 4:15 am and the Boston half of Diller is once again alone as a group. It's been an emotional past few hours, with our closing ceremony and saying goodbye to the Israelis. Today concluded not only the entire Israel seminar but also the Americans' volunteer week. Over the course of three days, we volunteered at a elementary school with mostly Ethiopian and Russian immigrants, an elderly daycare where we danced to live Jewish music and played bingo, a dog shelter where we cuddled with cute dogs and took them for walks, or rather runs, the Karmel forest where we helped repair the forest after the big fire last year, and a factory with special needs workers where we volunteered as workers. While the Israelis went to school, we were exposed to a different perspective of Haifa, one in which we could give back to our Jewish community even as we explored the city from an American tourist perspective. In the afternoons, the Israelis joined us (many of the Americans were astonished at the flexibility of the Israeli teens' schedules) and we visited more areas of Haifa together. Our visit to a Druze home was informative and also tasty! Another day was our Ethopian cultural day, when we listened to a speaker who talked about the experience of Ethiopian immigrants in Israel and then paid a visit to Yemin Orde. Most of us had a great time at Yemin Orde, where we had the pleasure of learning Ethopian dances (embarrassing Facebook videos to follow), ate yet more delicious food in the traditional Ethopian manner (scooping up sauces with injara, a spongy type of bread), and heard the story of an Ethopian woman who shared her immigration experience. That night, many of the Ethopians in our group shared their own stories of immigration. It was amazing for us to hear the experiences of our Diller peers and it really helped us to understand the complexity of the impact of immigration on Israeli culture. 

Well, our plane is boarding.... to be continued, possibly in Amsterdam!