By Ben Wolfson
In this week’s Parsha, Ha’azinu, Moses sings his final song where he details his love for G-d and at the same time chastises his people; Moses recounts the blessings G-d had bestowed upon them and the wicked deeds the Israelites had committed. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l said about the song: “Moses is bringing the Torah to a close with a theme that has been present from the beginning. G-d, Creator of the universe, made a world that is fundamentally good.” This theme of the Torah, that the world is fundamentally good, is seemingly becoming increasingly more difficult to believe. Every time I look at the news or on social media, there seems to be more bad news complicating the idea that the world is fundamentally good. Between COVID, the environmental crisis, racial injustice, women’s rights, and every issue in between, these days, it’s often hard to believe that the world is innately good.
During a recent conversation I had with some friends, the sentiment of hopelessness trickled throughout the group as we discussed the question, “What gives you hope?” However, I shared that I have been feeling a greater sense of optimism since the Jewish Teen Initiative Teen Retreat, which took place last month at the Irving M. Shuman Campgrounds at Camp Centerland. Over 35 teens participated in a day filled with fun activities, connecting with Jewish teens from across Western New York, and giving back to Jewish Buffalo by volunteering at PJ Library’s End of Summer Festival.
There was one moment from the retreat that stands out in particular that gives me hope about the future of our world. The teens heard from Matt Stewart and Sierra Johnston from Jewish Family Services of WNY (JFS) about how JFS is planning to welcome Afghani refugees to our community. Immediately after the presentation, the teens swarmed Matt and Sierra to get information about how to become involved in helping Afghan refugees settle in Western New York. This moment made me beam with pride, as it was clear how much the teens care about each other and our greater community.
We hope to continue building young leaders in Jewish Buffalo through our Fall Jewish Teen Experiences, which you can learn more about at bit.ly/BJTI2021 or contacting me at email@example.com.
Ben Wolfson is a recent graduate of University of Michigan and currently serves as the Manager of Jewish Teen Experience, Buffalo Jewish Teen Initiative.