When Sarah Winchell needs motivation or encouragement, during her daily prayers she visualizes Chimney Rock, a landmark in the Rocky Mountains surrounded by frozen lakes, a plunging cliff and a blanket of snow. The image has been imprinted in the 15-year-old's mind since she saw the breathtaking view last summer on a Jewish backpacking expedition program through Teva Adventure.
"One of my counselors said, 'Take a look around and whenever you need an inspiration when you're davening, think of this [view],'" recalled the Sebastopol 10th-grader.
At a time when keeping young Jews connected to their roots has become more important than ever, a variety of summer programs help teens solidify their Jewish identities.
Teva Adventure offers a variety of wilderness programs enabling Jewish travelers to develop outdoor skills while keeping Shabbat and kashrut. While backpacking, hiking, mountain climbing and fishing, participants learn Jewish perspectives on the outdoor world. Programs for 14- to 19-year-olds include Rocky Mountain Teen Adventure and Derech Hateva in Israel.
Teva is still accepting applications for this summer. For information, call (310) 765-4035, or visit www.tevaadventure.org.
What better way to embrace one's Judaism than visiting Israel? Organizations like North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), United Synagogue Youth (USY) and B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO) offer a variety of tours to Israel, Europe and Central America where high school students get to know the culture and meet other teens from around the country. For arts enthusiasts, BBYO and Avoda Arts are offering a unique program fusing Jewish learning with creating art at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.
For more information on USY programs for ninth- to 12th-graders, call (212) 533-7800, or visit www.usy.org.
For more information on NFTY programs for 10th- to 12th-graders and incoming college freshman, call (212) 452-6517, or visit www.nfty.org. Deadline: May 1.
For more information on BBYO programs for 10th- to 12th-graders in outdoor adventures, community service and college programs in Israel and the United States, call (818) 464-3366, or visit www.bbyo.org.
For the politically minded young adult, Aish HaTorah International is offering Hasbara Fellowships, a leadership-development seminar in Jerusalem, which educates college students about the history and politics of Israel and the Middle East.
For more information, call (646) 365-0030, or visit www.israelactivism.com. Deadline: one month before program begins (see schedule online).
High school students looking for a taste of college life can explore National Conference of Synagogue Youth's (NCSY) special-interest programs, including the Ivy League Leadership Scholars program, which takes students to Columbia University's School of Law in New York City and parts of Washington, D.C., where they'll meet high-powered Jewish professionals and learn how to pursue demanding careers while staying committed to Judaism.
In the Summer Medical School Experience students take college-level classes from world-renowned doctors at Northwestern University campus. The "Hollywood Film School" experience at UCLA fosters a Jewish setting while teaching aspiring screenwriters, directors and editors the ropes for their future careers.
Last summer, Tova Wiener, 17, spent a life-changing six weeks in the Michelet program for girls (the boys' program is called Kollel), a learning experience at a Jerusalem seminary.
"I thought that the best experience for me would be to connect to Israel through learning," said Wiener, a senior at Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles.
For more information on programs for ninth- to 12th-graders in Israel, Spain, Italy, U.S. college campuses and others, call (212) 613-8233 or (888) 868-7496, or visit www.ou.org/ncsy.
Teens in search of a cross-continental camp experience can meet Jews from all over the world at the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation AJJDC International Jewish Summer Camp in Szarvas, Hungary. Drawing campers from 20 countries, the camp is currently in search of 60 10th- and 11th-grade "American Ambassadors" to meet their international peers and share their Jewish communities and foster friendships.
Ronald S. Lauder Foundation AJJDC International Jewish Summer Camp
For more information, call (212) 362-3361, or visit www.szarvas.org.
To share one's Judaism and learn about other religions, Interfaith Inventions, a Ventura-based nonprofit organization, boasts Interfaith Summer Camps in Ojai and Rose Mountain, N.M., where teens and preteens from various faiths come together to share their diverse backgrounds. The camp's inaugural summer last year brought together Muslim, Jewish and Christian teens and preteens to share their cultures in a mutually respectful way with all the fun of camp.
For more information, call (310) 317-9262, or visit www.interfaithinventions.org.