Sophomores’ four days in Arizona marks first-ever chesed trip


Students travel for sports, debate, robotics, journalism and choir – so why not chesed – acts of service and kindness?

That question was answered when the entire 10th grade traveled by bus to Phoenix, Ariz., and visited retirement homes, homeless shelters, an area synagogue and other places Wednesday through Sunday, Nov. 30 through Dec. 4.

Sophomores could choose among various activities each day. Over the weekend, they visited a thrift store, a gardening area, an Orthodox Jewish elementary school and an art festival.

“The goal… was to provide a trip that took everyone out of their comfort zone, and out of their city, and out of their bubble, and introduce them to new ways of looking at chesed,” said Mrs. Sarah Leah Gormin, new chesed coordinator and initiator of this trip with help from NCSY, an Orthodox Jewish youth group she has been involved in for five years.

Sophomore Sharon Khalil said it felt like more than just community service.

“It didn’t feel like we were helping them, it just felt like we were having a good time,” said Sharon.

At the Kivel Campus of Care retirement home, residents like Eunice — a petite lady with warm eyes and a white pixie cut — were happy to have students spend a couple of hours with them.

Although the students initially seemed hesitant to engage with the residents, by the end of their visit they were laughing over games like Scrabble, or having personal conversations while coloring pictures of lighthouses.

A day later, the sophomores volunteered at the Phoenix Hebrew Academy. There, Shalhevet’s teens were flocked by kids half their size competing for a kick at a soccer ball, giving kids piggy-back-rides next to the monkey bars, or creating rainbow jellyfish made from yarn in the art room.

“The teachers were just overwhelmed with excitement that we were there,” said Mrs. Gormin.

Before Shabbat, Rabbi Yagil Tsaidi led a reflection in nature.

Surrounded by the calm of the desert, students shared their thoughts on the chesed they experienced together.

Bailey Mendelson spoke about the importance of its being enjoyable for both the giver and the receiver.

Abbi Sentchuk shared with her a story about a little girl in one of the homeless shelters who wanted a pillow for Christmas, teaching a powerful lesson to Kira Faerstain.

“That made me realize how grateful I really am, and how much I really have,” said Kira. “Now I see it, and I never really did before.”

Aside from chesed, the sophomores also enjoyed evening activities, including laser tag and a Kings-vs.-Coyotes hockey game.

At laser tagging, students were greeted with neon lights from the arcade and an ice cream shop with a misspelled sign reading “Ice Creamry.”

Also on the trip at various times were Judaics Studies Principal Reb Noam Weissman, Student Activities Coordinator Raizie Weissman, General Studies Principal Mr. Weslow; Judaics Studies teachers Rabbi Derek Gormin and Ilana Wilner; and rakezet Carolyn Tsaidi.

After 25-minute laser tagging sessions, students lined up for refreshing ice cream, relaxed in groups or played in the arcade.

Maybe it was carefree and informal moments like these that enhanced the whole experience of the trip and put students in the right mood to perform chesed.

Another one of those moments was on the bus back to Shalhevet.

A few hours in, the bus broke down — turning an ordinary seven-hour bus ride into a 12-and- a-half-hour adventure.

It could have been an ordeal, but some students said it actually added to the trip. Students were either singing along with a ukulele, talking, or sleeping. Many said later that they had formed connections with people they’d hardly spoken to before.

“For five hours [during the delay], we were all in one place together, just hanging out,” said Kira Faerstain.

On Dec. 5 at 1:30 a.m., a new sophomore class arrived at Shalhevet, tired but full of chesed.