A group of 26 teens from across the Valley recently returned from this year’s Care-a-van – a 15-day trip that organizer Myra Shindler, Bureau of Jewish Education director and Hebrew High principal, calls a “Magical Mitzvah Tour.”

“It was so much more than simply travelling and volunteering,” Shindler,  said via email. “The magic was what grew from the new friendships and relationships, as well as for the teens coming to know ‘their value’ to each and every one of the nonprofit agencies we visited. Time and time again, the volunteer coordinators emphasized to the teens how much they depend on volunteers to feed the needy, to help children learn to read, to engage in conversation with the elderly, etc.”

The students, entering grades 9-12, left Scottsdale on July 3 and spent the next two weeks, through July 17, traveling through Arizona, California and Nevada on this annual trip coordinated by the BJE’s Hebrew High.

They served meals at St. Vincent de Paul, sang patriotic hymns with seniors on the Fourth of July, sorted food donations at a Los Angeles food bank, served meals at a residential treatment center and participated in environmental, animal and youth community service projects.

The itinerary also included recreational fun, such as a visit to Six Flags Magic Mountain, a river rafting adventure, a comedy show and a visit to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Shabbat was “filled with ruach (spirit) that was contagious, the services were uplifting and participatory while the break from the work week was realized like never before – spending time with friends, and enjoying the outdoors,” Shindler wrote in her email.

Jacob Sachs, an 11th-grader at Perry High School in Gilbert who attends Chabad of the East Valley, said his favorite part of the trip was the close bonds created through teamwork at the community service events. “It was an overall amazing experience,” he said. “There were so many Jewish teens who took the advantage of helping their community. It was really awesome and I can’t wait to see what this group can do in the future.”

Emily Kaplan, an 11th-grader at BASIS Peoria, called the trip “so inspirational and eye-opening.”

“The amount of warmth, love, and community is overwhelmingly present throughout the entirety of the trip, and it’s an amazing feeling,” she wrote in an email. “I think Shabbats were one of my favorites not only because they were fun, but it also gave me a chance to explore my Jewish identity more and more, and that’s what this trip is about, exploring your Jewish soul with your favorite people, while having the best time of your life.”

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