NO: Keep chesed and bonding separate, in LA

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By Ari Schlacht, 11th grade

BP Photo by Neima Fax

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.

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