By Ben Gilliland
Yevanit Reschechtko, a Jewish student at East High School, was one of 36 teenagers who participated in PanimWorks, a 12-day community service and cultural exchange program.
PanimWorks is run by Panim: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values.
This year, the first session of Panim took place on Navajo and Hopi reservations in the Four Corners region of the US.
This is PanimWorks second year. Last year only one session was offered, but this year the organization doubled the enrollment and offered two sessions.
The first session ran June 29-July 10, and the second session is July 27-Aug. 7.
Next year Panim is planning on even more trips.
I heard about Panim through an email that I received from Hebrew High, and as I looked into it more it seemed really interesting and I thought it would be a really great experience, says Reschechtko.
Students who are interested in going on a Panim trip must first fill out an application in which they are required to respond to essay questions about why they are interested in attending.
Says Seth Kaplan, a Dorot fellow with Panim, Once they send in their applications, a program fellow in our office sets up a phone interview and asks questions about the applicants comfort level with certain challenges they are likely to face on the program.
Reschechtko was split into one of the four different groups, each of which was to work on a different community service project, such as home repair for the elderly and park restoration.
In our group we painted two elderly ladies houses, we built a retaining wall, we rebuilt a work shelf, and we weeded someones driveway, says Reschechtko.
The trip was not all work and no fun. The students were able to enjoy down time during which they would visit museums, traditional markets and local schools.
The students were also able to experience life on the reservation as a local and take part in cultural events.
I found the experience extremely rewarding, says Reschechtko.
It was not only a very fun way to do community service work, but also a great hands-on way to learn about a different culture, especially since the Navajo people live so nearby. It was also interesting to learn about the similarities and differences between the Navajo religion and Judaism, he says.