ChillZone Attendance Hits Record High

 

 

ChillZoneIn the dead of the winter, on Saturday nights when most teens are huddled around a screen playing Fortnite, the Chillers are gathering at Oorah’s ChillZones.  This winter, ChillZone attendance hit record highs – peaking at 1,000 participants on some evenings and averaging between 500 and 600 for most of the season.

While these Saturday night winter gatherings have built up a wide following over the years, what made this year different?

“I really attribute this increase in attendance to the dedication and personalities of our Head Chillers,” says Bina Zahner, Oorah’s Camp Organizer Administrator, who supports the ChillZones from Oorah’s headquarters. She and Rabbi Avraham Brog, Camp Director of Boys/ Head of ChillZone, both strive to create programs to engage and inspire children who may not have strong Jewish educational backgrounds.

Aviva is one of those Head Chillers who made a difference this year.  She led the Monsey, NY ChillZone with her friend, Shira. The pair had never organized a ChillZone before and found it both satisfying and challenging.

Great Summer at The Zone

Aviva learned about the ChillZone program last summer when she worked at a counselor at Oorah’s The Zone sleepaway camp in upstate New York. Like Aviva, all the counselors are volunteers tasked with creating a fun atmosphere and transmitting their enthusiasm for Judaism to the campers.  Oorah leaders carefully vet all camp counselors and Head Chillers to assure that they are qualified to serve as role models for the children in their care. Many Head Chillers are often, like Aviva, former Zone counselors.

“It was an incredible summer, and I wanted it to continue,” says Aviva of her experience at The Zone. “I wanted to keep inspiring girls like my campers. I loved dancing with my campers, and I wanted to do that again and sing camp songs and keep giving.”

She added that it is important to her personally to do meaningful things and after graduating from high school, where there were many opportunities to contribute, it becomes more challenging to find those types of projects. Creating a ChillZone was a perfect activity.

Mrs. Zahner explains the Head Chillers are “truly dedicated to our mission. Why else would they come out every Saturday night in the dark and the cold? Some of them travel over an hour to get to their Chill Zone.”

Because they had never run a program before, “we really learned on the job,” says Aviva. Oorah provided lists of campers and past participants to get them started.

Connecting with the Chillers

“We called every name on the list,” recalls Aviva. “We texted past participants. And we put up posters in all the schools”

Once they had connected with potential Chillers, the pair worked to make sure the programs was fun and entertaining so the girls who attended the first time continued to come.

“We tried to make it exciting. We bought colorful tables clothes and matching plates to make it inviting,” says Aviva.

Aviva said it took the couple of weeks for her and Shira to work out all the logistics. They organized races and competition that the girls enjoyed. They worked to create a Jewish learning component, and Aviva notes the girls suggested that someone sit in the center of a circle and read from the text, which the girls then discussed. Oorah provides a selection of material for the Chillers to use. They also enjoyed art projects that Oorah supplies.

Mrs. Zahner explains that the boys have more sports-type games at their ChillZones. From Oorah headquarters, Mrs. Zahner keeps all of the ChillZones supplied with the games, raffles prizes and books that the Head Chillers need to run the programs, which is no small tasks. Every week she arranges a shipment to most of the 35 ChillZones in the U.S. and Canada filled with items designed to delight the participants. There are also two ChillZones in Israel to support students attending Oorah’s Discovery U program there.

And it wouldn’t be a ChillZone without pizza! Aviva said they always ordered extra pizza because they were never certain how many girls would turn up.

“If one girl had a sleep over, all the girls she invited would come,” she says with a laugh.

ChillZone Carnival

Once a year, explains Mrs. Zahner, there is a special ChillZone event. This year, each ChillZone had a carnival with eight or nine booths, games and prizes. Across the country, different ChillZones staggered them for different weeks, but these were highly publicized by the Head Chillers and drew additional attendees, many of whom continued to come for the rest of the Chiller season, which ends with the start of Daylight Savings Time.

Aviva says that at the end of the Monsey program the carnival was mentioned as the girls’ favorite activity in a survey.

Aviva adds she took pictures at each ChillZone and created a video afterwards that she posted on WhatsApp. Now only did the Monsey Chillers love the videos, but other girls saw them and asked if they could come and chill.

All the effort paid off with a special bonding among the girls.  “If one girl couldn’t come or was sick, the other girls would ask to add her name for the raffle.  We really became a ChillZone family,” she says.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Oorah’s TorahMates Program Became My Spiritual Self-Care

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Anniel Nagler is a physical therapist. She lives in Hollywood, Florida with her three teen-aged daughters. For two years she has participated in Oorah’s TorahMates program. She reached out to share her experience.

As if women juggling kids, jobs and spouses don’t have enough to worry about, it seems that we now have to pay attention to self-care. Every magazine I open or podcast I listen to warns that if we don’t make time for self-care, we will somehow roll off the rails. By “self-care,” they usually urge women to spend a day at the spa, get a make-over at Sephora or scarf down a box of chocolate.

Over the past two years, I have learned that the most important aspect of self-care, for me, is nurturing my spirituality and connection to Judaism. It has done more to improve my self-confidence and my family life than a massage ever would. But this journey to discovering my spiritual self was not one that I started willingly.

Several years ago my children began participating in Jewish education programs run by the Oorah organization. Instead of letting the kids do their Jewish thing while the parents did business as usual,   the group leaders recommended a different kind of self-care. They felt that to support my children’s Jewish growth, I needed to enroll in Oorah’s TorahMates program and spend two hours a week studying some point of Jewish observance with a partner Oorah would select.

It was kind of a spiritual Tinder without being able to swipe left – Oorah would select the partner for me.

I have to be honest. When I received the news about TorahMates, I was more than a bit skeptical. As much as I appreciated the concept of Torah study and growing for the betterment of my children’s education, I didn’t really see how my learning with a stranger would strengthen their Jewish identities.

I wondered if I couldn’t do some sort of community service instead.  Or some self-guided learning? I couldn’t imagine how I was going to carve out the time and work out a schedule for me and some unknown partner to sit down and learn. It really was a challenge.

But for some reason – which I now attribute to Hashem’s hand — I was partnered with this really remarkable woman named Chumi.  When we first started learning together, we were both drawn to strengthening our emunah (faith) and found some books we could study with. Some of the books were good; some better than others.  I was always amazed at how Chumi made learning with me such a priority in her hectic schedule,

When we began, Chumi was a mother of five (now six), working full time as a nurse and attending grad school to further her education. I was so awe of her and felt that I had no reason to grumble about the time commitment given everything she was shouldering. If she could do it, I certainly could, too, I reasoned.

As the weeks flowed into months and the months into years, we grew closer and shared more about our personal lives and the ways our emunah is such an integral part of our day-to-day functioning. The hour weekly phone call has expanded. We now speak or text almost every day.  It became abundantly clear, to us both, I believe, that it really was Hashem who brought us together to learn and grow from one another.

I am abundantly grateful to Oorah for providing an opportunity to develop my own spiritual growth and learning of Torah. Oorah’s Torah Mates coordinators were amazing – pairing me with a woman who was a perfect match. Torah learning had not been a priority in my life for many years.  I was always so busy worrying about my children’s growth and education. I put my own development on the back burner. I understand now how important it is for me, as the mother of my household, to have a strong foundation in Torah and emunah.  This is the only way I can influence my children in a positive way.

I am also incredibly grateful for, and amazed by my partner, Chumi. She embodies a person who lives a life that revolves around her emunah.  During the few years that I have known her and have witnessed her countless struggles, I am inspired by the way she is able to call upon her belief in Hashem to and her strength of character, to get through them. She is truly an inspiration to me! I am blessed to be able to learn from her. She teaches me far more from the way she lives her life than I will ever learn in a book.

By studying with Chumi, strengthening my relationship with this woman I admire and increasing my own attachment to Hashem, I have repaired a spiritual part of myself that I had not even realized was damaged.

This is the ultimate self-care. It has restored my inner life and made me a better mother. Doesn’t that beat spending $200 for a face cream at Sephora?

 

Oorahthon’s Inspiring Moments

Oorah’s auction is always one of the most anticipated Oorah events of the year, with thousands of people taking part from all over the world. The Oorahthon, which takes place the night of the auction, is the highlight of the entire auction, as not only are the winners announced, but there is fun, entertaining and exciting programming, all lasting until the early hours of the morning. This programming gives a special peek into Oorah, as viewers are able to meet the dedicated staff, volunteers, and hear inspiring stories of those a part of the Oorah family. What viewers would not hear, are the fascinating stories of the some of the auction winners, which we only learn about after the auction is over. Here, we have detailed a few of the stories, so you can become just as inspired as we were!

  • The winner of the $4000 discover card had actually bought the ticket for someone else. While anyone who wins such a prize would be ecstatic, this winner was over the moon, and not because she would be using the money herself, but because she would be giving it away to her friend! Her friend, who has four children and is expecting her fifth, is having a very difficult time caring for her family. Unfortunately, her husband has been wrongly accused of a crime and is sitting in jail, unable to be there and provide for his family. The winner of the prize entered the auction, having in mind that if she won, she would give the life changing prize to her friend. And now, thanks to Hashem’s intervention, she is able to!
  • The “Go for The Gold” winner, has won an ounce of gold per family member. With 14 children, this lucky family has won 16 ounces of gold! Not only that, but the winner informed us that the family has recently took upon themselves to bench with sincere kavanah. She is convinced that they won this amazing prize in that zechus!
  • The “Mega Bucks” winner has won 100 times his donation. With every ticket being $5, this means that just by buying one ticket, he could have won $500! Wanting to donate generously regardless if he won or not, he gave $1000, knowing he was giving money to a great cause. Unbelievable, this lucky man won the prize, and now is the proud winner of $50,000!! You never know where your tzedakah will lead you!
  • During the Oorahthon, our lines momentarily went down due an electrical current zapping our equipment. With thousands of viewers and callers depending on us, we knew we had to get the equipment up and running right away. Needing a specific piece of phone equipment to bring our studio guests back on air, everyone was frantically in search of the part needed. Unbelievably, one person who “happened” to be at Oorah, watching the Oorahthon, had the replacement part in the car! He told us that he had the part available only because a friend had requested to borrow it a few days later. Because he didn’t want to forget to give it to his friend, he had placed it in his car days early. Thanks to his quick thinking and Hashem’s plans, we were able to get the Oorahton hotline up and running in no time!

Oorah’s Boys ShabbaZone Brings Warmth to a Chilly Shabbos Chanukah

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By Tamar Farajian

Almost two hundred boys from across the U.S. gathered at Oorah’s camp, TheZone, for a heartwarming and inspirational Shabbos Chanukah. Despite the near freezing weather and blankets of snow covering the grounds, the boys, who were returning campers as well as those who have never attended TheZone, were greeted by the warmth of friendly staff and inviting accommodations. “Shabbazone is the once a year opportunity during the winter months to give returning and potential campers a taste of TheZone and the experience of an entire Shabbos,” said Rabbi Yehoshua Weinstein, director of kiruv development. “Dozens of bochrim [who are mentors to the boys] gave up their off Shabbos, which could have been spent with their families, in order to give inspiration to the boys.”

The ruach of excitement, love, and achdus, as personified by the bochrim, was felt throughout the entire Shabbos. Starting off with a Chanukah candle lighting ceremony with hundreds of menorahs lighting up the vast dining room, each mentor helped the boys recite the bracha and light their own menorah, this being the first time performing the inspiring mitzvah for many. This same ruach was exemplified by Rabbi Chaim Mintz, founder of Oorah, as he greeted each child, wishing them a good Shabbos. Special guest, Lakewood mayor Menashe Miller gave divrei chizuk to the boys throughout Shabbos, helping them gain confidence in their continued spiritual growth.

One of the highlights of the entire weekend, besides for the dreidel tournament, snowboarding, laser tag, and hover-boarding, was the Friday night TorahMates learning session. With the walls of the fully packed bais medrash reverberating with the sweet sounds of Torah study, every boy was excited to be able to learn with their TorahMates and mentors, continuing their growth from the summer months. Rabbi Chaim Reichman, camp learning director, understood the importance of the shabbaton to the campers: “TheZone is not just a camp; it is all about keeping up throughout the year with TorahMates and ChillZone. This Shabbos was an opportunity for our staff and campers to reunite in a geshmake, torahdik, fun, and ruach filled way, which keeps those connections strong and fresh.”

The boys had another opportunity to reconnect with their ChillZone groups after Shabbos, with each city’s ChillZone learning together in the shul. Program director, Dovid Miller, explained the beauty of hundreds of boys learning together. “One of the most beautiful sites you’ll ever see is a national ChillZone which can rival and beat any avos ubanim. A packed bais medrash with hundreds of campers learning, yeshiva bochrim with kids who can’t read aleph bais, kids who have wild hairdos with yeshiva guys with flying payos…it is a true Kiddush Hashem.”

Indeed, the Kiddush Hashem was felt by every one of the staff, as they were enthused by each kiruv boy’s sincerity and love of learning. Dovid Miller shared one such moment of inspiration. “Some may think that to connect and reach a teen could be very hard because they are older and more involved in the world. Let me tell you, behind all the fluff and “macho”-ness even the toughest kid with the craziest haircut is craving a real relationship…someone who really cares…a little warmth…a true interest…a good TorahMate.

I saw a kid who came in with a really negative attitude and wouldn’t even talk to me. After Shabbos when everyone was dancing together in the ballroom, I asked him if he had a good time. He just gave me a smile and a nod. That to me was worth more than 1000 words. I knew we had reached him.”

The effects ChillZone, TorahMates, TheZone, and this special ShabbaZone has on each child is not always easy to see, but is certainly felt by each staff member. As the mentors know, a single word of kindness or show of friendship goes a long way toward helping the boys continue their spiritual growth, as demonstrated by Oorah’s Chanukah ShabbaZone.

The Zone is Never Too Far Away…

Many camps provide a fantastic summer for its campers, yet leaves them with only fond memories and sad goodbyes when summer comes to an end. The Zone, however, works at maintaining the relationships and inspiring moments found during the summer  with ChillZone, Shabbatons, and Yom Tov events throughout the year.

We recently received the following email from a couple of Zone campers who are now in seminary in Israel that illustrate the powerful outreach of The Zone:

Dear  our Oorah parents,

 As the yomim noraim  are coming to an end and seminary is on full ride now, we wanted to share a few thoughts. The zone has really prepared us for coming to Israel  even despite the challenges . It has taught us how to find the right girls to befriend, get into the more serious schools and really just shown us how much you’ve always been there for us. Times here might get hard but we always know TheZone is never too far away. We just wanted to let you know  with the zone as our background we were set up for an amazing, inspiring, growth oriented year. As we look at the girls around us , we see how lucky we are to have the zone to keep us connected. Our torahmates continue to inspire us over the seas so we never feel too far away. We look forward to the upcoming zone events, chillzone, and even hopefully to what this summer holds in store for us.

Chag semach

From  your children in Israel,

C & I

We are so happy these girls feel able and ready for an inspiring year in Israel!