Teens travel and explore new places during confirmation trips

The author and his Shaare Emeth confirmation class in at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C. this past weekend.

BY BEN REMIS, SOPHOMORE, JOHN BURROUGHS SCHOOL

Confirmation has been a part of Jewish tradition since the early 1800s. The custom began as a way to continue teaching religion to Jewish teenagers after their bar or bat mitzvah. Modern confirmation is still very similar, but a new tradition has started to develop: the confirmation trip.

Many confirmation classes travel somewhere in the United States in order to expand their Jewish education and grow as a community.

“Shaare Emeth’s confirmation class participates in the Religion Action Center of Reform Judaism’s L’Taken Social Justice Seminar in Washington, D.C.,” Shaare Emeth Rabbi Jonah Zinn said. “This program gives students a unique window into the American political process and how Jewish values are relevant in today’s world. [The trip then] culminates with meetings in congressional and senatorial offices on Capitol Hill where participants have the opportunity to lobby on issues of personal concern.”

Each Shaare Emeth confirmation class travels to Washington. On the other hand, Temple Emanuel’s destination changes with each new group of students.

“Each year, our students choose where they would like to go for their confirmation trip,” said Subie Banaszynski, Temple Emanuel’s director of education. “Recent trips include New York City, Washington and Denver. Our trips include interacting with Jewish teens in other communities. We visit and do programming with other Reform teens who host our class for services, learning and socializing.”

Mark Rodgers, a senior at John Burroughs and a Central Reform congregant, went on a confirmation trip to New York City led by Rabbi Susan Talve. He says it was a great experience.

“It was a sightseeing trip where we learned about giving back and Jewish history,” Mark said. “[It is] a great connection to our history.”

There are many opportunities for teens to learn about Jewish history and culture at home, but there are also benefits to going abroad. Confirmation trips give teens chances to explore Judaism outside their St. Louis community.

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“While St. Louis has a rich Jewish history and vibrant Jewish community, other U.S. cities also have strong Jewish identities that may be different than our own,” Banaszynski said. “Before teens ‘confirm’ their Judaism, it is important that they learn about all types of Jewish people and our rich heritage as American Jews.”

Confirmation trips are sometimes hard to fit into busy schedules, but the experiences that many teens have are worth it. During his confirmation trip to New York, Mark said one of the most meaningful experiences was a visit to Ground Zero, the site where the World Trade Center towers used to be.

“We were at Ground Zero and some people in our group had recently lost parents or grandparents,” he said. “We talked about their memories. It was very emotional. [We were] taken to some old hole-in-the-wall Jewish restaurants where we had some of the Old World food that our grandparents used to make.”

Traveling involves many opportunities to meet and become close with people. One of the best parts of going on the confirmation trips is the chance to connect with other teens.

“A Jewish peer trip, regardless of destination, is an experience like no other,” Banaszynski said. “Jewish teens become immersed in Judaism with other students who share similar values, history and culture. [Many teens] may be the only Jewish person in their class, or school, which makes a trip like this even more beneficial.

“Traveling as a group develops life skills in compromise, celebrating individuality and managing time. The biggest benefit is deepening the relationships among our teens.”

Confirmation trips are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many Jewish teens. They are an opportunity to connect with other Jewish teens from around the country, to immerse themselves in Jewish cultures and to learn more about how different cultures influence the world around us.

Whether they involve talking to politicians, eating food that connects teens to their grandparents, or just getting to know another person a little better than before, the confirmation trip has become a tradition that is here to stay.

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