Teens and mentors from Bangkok to Brazil at Poconos Retreat

A CTeen summer weekend retreat for leadership training united teens and Chabad emissaries from all over the world.

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Carin M. Smilk,

Teens and Mentors From Bangkok to Brazil at Poconos Retreat
Teens and Mentors From Bangkok to Brazil at Poconos Retreat
Photo: Shmuel Amit

A group of 200 teens and Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries recently participated in a long weekend of leadership training in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains, Chabad.org reported.

Held last month, the retreat included a long weekend of workshops, lectures, and discussions, as well as a traditional Shabbat in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains. It also offered training sessions for Chabad emissaries new to directing CTeen (the Chabad teen network) chapters in Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Leeds, Munich and Rio de Janeiro and throughout the world.

Noted author, teacher and lecturer Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson served as scholar-in-residence. Also present was Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

During four days of programming, emissaries engaged in topics such as team-building strategies, mental-health awareness, and how to delegate tasks effectively. The different teen chapters and their advisers also worked together to plan events for the upcoming year.

Rabbi Kotlarsky, executive director of Merkos Suite 302, which oversees CTeen, was impressed by the participants’ reactions and responses.

“Watching the next generation of shluchim (emissaries) and teen leaders prepare for their roles,” he says, “was inspiring and uplifting.”

“It gave me my voice. It helped me evolve as a person,” says 18-year-old Rachel Wilkes of her years with CTeen. “It showed me that I can be who I want to be.”

The native of Hollywood, Fla., is off to study for a year in Israel, but before that - and right after graduating high school - she made time to attend the fourth annual CTeen Leadership Retreat.

One of the older teens there, Wilkes shared some of the tools she uses to connect with peers who are not affiliated with their Judaism.

“What’s inside of others, I try to bring out,” she explains. “People want to grow, and I want to inspire them. I want to be that person for them.”

In Ryan DaCosta’s first year of involvement, he attended the leadership retreat and the annual CTeen International Shabbaton in New York City. Even though the rising high school senior lives in Suffern, N.Y., with its significant Jewish population, he says he never realized how many Jews were in the world until he joined these events.

“I’ve met teens from France, Singapore, Canada and all over the United States—it just kind of happens, meeting new people through teamwork and lessons and downtime. You have conversations about what you have in common, and how we are all linked, all one community,” says the 17-year-old.

“Chabad was a big shift for me,” attests DaCosta, “but it opened me up to new schools of thought. I now have a greater comfort level with being Jewish. It’s been life-changing.”

It was Haley Flambaum’s first leadership retreat as well, even though she’s been active with CTeen for several years and been to the New York Shabbaton twice. She enjoyed the more intimate experience in the mountains, exchanging tips about how to be a strong leader.

“You really connect and have a good time with a limited number of people,” says the 17-year-old rising high school senior from Chadds Ford, Pa. “You have the opportunity to express your Jewish pride; you learn that religion is a good part of you. That can be hard in school, especially when there aren’t many other Jews.”

Oryah Lahijani, 17, of Wilmington, Del., thought the leadership retreat was a “learning experience like no other.”

And that’s after the rising 12th-grader, introduced to CTeen in eighth grade, has been to four New York Shabbatons, and taken part in last summer’s inaugural trip to Poland and Israel.

Lahijani says she returns home from these adventures refreshed and inspired: “The emissaries and experiences lead you on the right path to being a well-rounded person, and a better leader and communicator. They help build who you are, what you believe in and how you can grow. You put yourself out there—and get so much back in return.”