If this doesn’t make your heart melt, nothing will

IMG_3354
This weekend, TheZone will be hosting hundreds of children and families for the annual Chanukah ShabbaZone. Our camp department is working overtime preparing for the event and fielding the many phone calls and applications coming in.

This email, received just this morning, stood out from all the rest:

“I’m sorry to bother you but I just got my Chanukah money today… and I look up the zone website to sign up and see that you are not accepting anymore boys to your shabbaton. If you can please give me a chance to pay you, it would be an honor to go to a huge shabbaton like this one. Any answer will suit me but just please respond as soon as possible so I would know if I need to buy meat for Shabbat so I can cook. Thank you… hag sameach.”

How could we say no to a request like that?

Pesach in Gan Eden (aka TheZone)

As we recover from the whirlwind and chaos that is Pesach (Baruch Hashem!), we pause for a moment to reflect on the Yom Tov that passed. Pesach at TheZone was memorable, yet indescribable. With hundreds of Oorah families and campers passing through over Yom Tov, it is hard to capture the flavor and the spirit of the holiday. But, with the help of several participants, we will try.

With 350(!!!!) guests sitting around our Seder table, led by Rabbi Chaim Mintz, we still were able to have one unified Seder. Many participants remarked on the beauty of having so many different “types” of Jews all celebrating together in complete unity. Ma nishtana was recited in at least a dozen languages, including Hungarian, Farsi, Russian and even sign language!

Kosher for Pesach muffins that tasted like the real deal!

Kosher for Pesach muffins that tasted like the real deal, baked in house!

Dueling Rabbis got all the parents and teachers in attendance heatedly debating the merits of homework. Oorah’s signature Yaalili contest had both Sephardim and Ashkenazim entertained. And throughout the Yom Tov, thought-provoking discussions, conversations and learning sessions abounded. And could we forget to mention the non-gebrokts muffins?!

In the words of one guest, “I never experienced such a thing! It was Gan Eden! Such love! Such achdut! Nowhere is there anything like what I saw!”

The inspiration of Pesach at TheZone resonated with so many who told us of the changes they have made in their own lives because of the experience. We close with the remarkable testimony of a touched mother:

“Spending the first days of Pesach at TheZone with the wonderful Oorah family was a life-changing experience.

I got a chance to witness and be part of a REAL, MEANINGFUL Jewish experience. One where I was not judged based on my appearance, but instead cherished- for being me!

It was the first time in 30 years that I felt accepted in a religious environment. It has made me realize that there are G-dly people in the world and that I can join them in serving Hashem in a way that makes sense to me.

This experience was made even more special by the fact that it has given me (a single mother) the desire to raise my son in a Jewish environment. Before this Pesach, I did not ever consider sending my son to a Jewish school. Now, I hope he will start his Jewish education in Oorah’s preschool in Staten Island!

No words can express my gratitude to Rabbi Mintz… I hope to start with a TorahMate soon and to become stronger in my devotion to G-d every day…”

Chanukah!!

We’ve been so busy planning all the upcoming Chanukah events, we almost forgot to update our blog! Here’s what we’ve got planned… exciting days ahead of us!

First up, the annual Oorah Chanukah concert is almost here. It’s this Wednesday night, November 27, the first night of Chanukah, in Brooklyn College’s Walt Whitman Theater. The concert will feature Avraham Fried, Yitzy Bald and the New York Boys Choir, the Zemiros Choir and other special guests, with music by the Shloime Dachs Orchestra. This is going to be one fun evening!

Chanukah packages should be hitting homes already. We call them “party-in-a-box” because they’ve got all the essentials of a Chanukah party inside, from the menorah to the goodies to the informational guide.

Chanukah party at Brooklyn's ChillZone

Chanukah party at Brooklyn’s ChillZone

ChillZones across the country have begun celebrating Chanukah. So many of them have had parties and special activities to get the kids into the spirit of the season.

And then there’s the Chanukah ShabbaZone coming up in TheZone!! Shabbos Chanukah will be only for the boys, but don’t worry- there’s a girls ShabbaZone coming up soon too. There’s lots of fun planned (we’ve heard there’s a possibility of a gala latka eating contest?!)

Of course, we haven’t even mentioned our Eight Nights, Eight Flights early bird raffle. It’s kind of like the icing on the cake: above all the fun and excitement planned for Chanukah, we’re giving away 8 tickets to Israel for anyone who enters the Oorah Auction before Chanukah. More details on the Oorah Auction website.

Happy Chanukah!

My TM Story

by Avi Gordon, COO of Oorah

Most, if not all, companies and organizations take great pride in developing, showcasing and protecting the all-too-familiar and mighty “TM”, the Trade Mark. This TM is a recognizable sign or expression encapsulating, in many instances, the company’s very essence and raison d’être.

This story begins about six weeks ago at a Shabbat with Oorah which I attended at Oorah’s spectacularly beautiful TheZone Camp for boys in upstate New York.

We were seated at a table with a family from Connecticut attending an Oorah event for the very first time. As an employee of Oorah and a pretty gregarious kind of guy, I walked around to the other side of the table in order to welcome them on behalf of Oorah.

We made small talk, began the meal and proceeded to have a wonderful evening. I noticed that sitting next to the parents was a teenage boy who had been somewhat reserved during the evening and had not really said much at all. I decided to engage him in conversation and found to my surprise that he was a serious, highly intelligent and very engaging young man.

We spoke and, as with most conversations, the thread of discussion moved from football to school to college. Albeit pleasant, it was in all honesty idle chatter. I decided to change the subject in the middle of all this small talk and asked him a question which really had to do with “nothing” but in a philosophical sense had to do with “everything.”

“Would you be interested in learning Torah once a week?” I asked him. He looked at me contemplatively and to my absolute surprise said, “Sure, why not?”

Having said our warm goodbyes to the family and promising the son those oft-used words that “I would be in touch,” my wife and I began the beautiful and serene walk back to our room.

“What have I done?” I said to my wife. “What on Earth have I done?”

She thought for a while and then responded to my question in the most beautiful way. “What you did was, in some mystical sense, to begin, maybe, one of the most important journeys of your life. A journey in which you will be the greatest benefactor.”

“But I am doing the teaching,” I responded in disbelief. “I will be doing all the teaching.”

I was told once by an adam gadol to remember carefully what your wife says, as her opinion will be yours in three weeks time.

Fast forward to last Sunday evening. At exactly six o’clock, I called this young man. We spoke, we learned and we laughed.

At the end of the call, he thanked me over and over again for learning with him. The guy had it all wrong. I was the one who should have thanked him. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is the giver who gains the most, not the receiver. He gave me the opportunity of a lifetime and I just hope and pray that it develops into a long-term relationship based in learning, love and life itself.

The journey with this young man has just begun and we have much ground to traverse. Although very unsure of the path and trajectory that this learning will take me on and understanding that there will be challenges in the future for me to overcome, I return to the opening discussion concerning the all-powerful “TM” of which every company and organization is rightfully so proud.

I, Avi Gordon, now claim with great humility and an enormous amount of pride that I too have a “TM” which identifies me in the most surreal and essential kind of way. MY TM, however, does not stand for the all-important Trade Mark bowed down to at the alter of the corporate world of Apple, IBM and Disney.

My TM stands for two simple words: Torah Mate. With Hashem’s help and blessings, I will be able to make some small changes in the life of a wonderful young man, searching for answers in a confused and frightening world.

I am his TorahMate and so proud to be so.

Please join me in this mission. There can be none more important.

Inspired by Sukkos and Simchas Torah at TheZone

Dancing in TheZone on Chol Hamoed Sukkos was still going strong past 2 am.

Dancing in TheZone on Chol Hamoed Sukkos was still going strong past 2 am.

A new member of the Oorah team shares her feelings after spending Simchas Torah at TheZone:

I am sitting here in the office and can’t seem to come down from a high. I told my husband that this was the first time in decades that I was so connected to the Yom Tov of Simchas Torah on a ruchnius (spiritual) level. My whole mishpacha (family) felt that we all had a VERY meaningful Yom Tov. What we each gained is immeasurable.

We each were amazed at every detail and are SO appreciative of the effort and labor that went into pulling off this massive event. The hours and days and kochos (energies), both physical and emotional, were definitely apparent. Connecting to the kiruv families warmed the heart and we were inspired by their longing and appreciation of frumkeit. (One gentleman came over to my husband and told him, “Shmuel, you know how to live!”)

There are no words to express our appreciation for this beautiful event we experienced. We came away with so much more than we expected.

I can’t tell you how proud I am to be part of the Oorah team, making a difference in people’s lives.