NO: Keep chesed and bonding separate, in LA
By Ari Schlacht, 11th grade
Chesed trips – school trips organized around chesed, which means acts of lovingkindness — in theory are an excellent idea. On paper, grade bonding and fun activities are perfectly balanced with service and by the time the buses arrive back at Shalhevet, kids supposedly have experienced the joys of giving back.
Unfortunately, this is not the full story. Students come back to Los Angeles ready to mark off 25 chesed hours out of the Shalhevet mandatory total of 100, when in reality, they only did between three and five. Classmates also set out for the trip thinking they are going to experience an incredible and unforgettable couple of days of service. But in reality, most times they have not.
The only way this problem would be solved would be if Shalhevet significantly increased the funding to the trips, so that the chesed would be guaranteed to be meaningful, and the distance part actually necessary. This would mean finding disasters wherever they might be, and providing help that’s truly in short supply.
Shalhevet has done this at least once in the past. In the fall of 2017, the then-junior class flew to Houston to support communities devastated by Hurricane Harvey. The class of 2019 helped tear down homes, met with homeowners, and overall did semi-labor-intensive work together, as a class. It couldn’t have been done locally, because the need wasn’t local. The storm especially impacted an Orthodox community there, which made it feel closer to home and also probably easier to arrange, since our school leaders were closely connected to those to whom they could reach out and offer assistance.
By contrast, the juniors this year traveled to Arizona for their chesedtrip. While the group volunteered at a food pantry and did meaningful work, it was not necessarily a chesed need that was specific to Arizona; sorting things at food pantries and talking with the elderly can easily be done in Los Angeles, saving money and time.
Bonding trips, on the other hand, can be local and inexpensive. The annual senior retreat takes place locally, and seniors sleep at school before doing a local activity such as a hike or an escape room. This involves no chesed but provides opportunity for students to bond.
It would make much more sense to address these two worthy goals separately. For bonding, there should be a more local, gradewide retreat, solely focused on fostering fun vibes and memorable group opportunities. Chesed should be accomplished through periodic mandatory chesed opportunities two to eight times per year.
Chesed would not be sacrificed — in fact, community service might even be more meaningful if we were giving back to our very own community in Los Angeles, or somewhere else nearby.
As things stand now, these two goals have been forced to coexist in one short retreat when they, in truth, can only fully flourish on their own. Students deserve time off to relax together, but that time should not come at the expense of doing chesed. And chesed should not be contained to a few measly hours that would otherwise be used to give grades time to bond.
YES: Transformative trip inspires local chesed
By Gabby Lasry, 11th Grade
As most juniors at Shalhevet will tell you, the chesed trip is one of the greatest parts of the year. The chesed trip, which is offered to both juniors and sophomores, is an excellent way to do community service outside of school and bond with classmates at the same time.
Last year, the sophomore class went to Nevada, where they performed a number of different chesed activities. At a food packaging facility, they threw oranges into bins and put boxes away, and felt they were actively improving lives and had truly completed the chesed. This instilled an everlasting love for helping others.
I can vividly remember my friends and me discussing how we appreciated that we are able to help those in need. Other students later joined in on the conversation and said things like, “We don’t even care about the chesed hours, what we are doing here is incredible.” That is the point of this trip. It is not so students can simply get a few extra hours toward a requirement. It is for students to value chesed, enjoy chesed, and realize it’s importance.
Also during my sophomore year, I remember walking around the women’s shelter in Henderson, Nev., and learning about the challenges that the women there have to face. This event had allowed students to feel so much gratitude for the lives they live, and also understand the reality of the world we live in.
In fact, these trips were among the various reasons that Caroline Edry and I decided to start our new club, Hope4Humanity, which offers students the opportunity to do chesed once a month in the Greater Los Angeles Community. The point of Hope4Humanity is the same as the chesed trip — to expand the type of chesed the student body participates in. Furthermore, the goal is to interest all types of students so they want to help the less fortunate. By joining with many different organizations, both Hope4Humanity and the chesed trips hope to include all types of students, and show everyone new ways to help others.
The chesed trip is not merely about leaving school for a few days and partaking in fun activities, though certainly that happens. it is about discovering what chesed means to you personally, while bonding and creating a connection with your classmates. I know that I personally have developed a deeper love and appreciation for the abundance of non-profit organizations around the world whose members take time out of their days and their lives to help others.
And at same time, I know that I have also made friends that will remain my best friends for life. That doesn’t diminish the value of the chesed trips. It increases it.