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What I did this summer Connecticut’s young adults go globe trotting

Ari Jacobson, West Hartford
Byron Glacier, Alaska

Ari Jacobson, 19, is a graduate of Hall High School in West Hartford and now attends American University. This month, he spent a week in Alaska as part of “Extreme HD Alaska,” a three-week immersive “Classroom in the Wild” filmmaking course offered by the American University School of Communication’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking. Together with four fellow undergraduates and five graduate students, Jacobson learned high-definition filmmaking skills under challenging environmental and expeditionary conditions in Alaska.
The first few days were classroom sessions where we went over topics including aircraft egress, bear encounters, and ascending and descending rock. Most sessions were followed by a hands-on training session. For instance, after we had a classroom session on underwater aircraft egress, we were brought to a pool, put in a cage that was supposed to mimic the inside of a cockpit, and rolled into the pool to put our training to test. We were able to go rock-climbing with cameras and learned how to tie ourselves off in order to film while suspended.
Some of the most valuable lessons we learned were about how to take care of our equipment in such extreme conditions. This was put to the test when we were filming on the Byron Glacier as rain swirled around us. I had to use Styrofoam and duct tape to make an enclosure for my camera, which proved useful on the rocks as well.
There were quite a few frightening experiences. Most things we did were frightening in some respect. The underwater aircraft egress training gave most of us a scare the first time we tried it; it can be very nerve-wracking being strapped in a cage and thrown head first into a pool of water. No matter how many times we practiced above water, it was extremely disorienting when we were thrown in the pool. Another experience that was frightening was rappelling off of rock faces. We had to learn to tie figure-eight knots so that we could suspend ourselves and film or take photos at the same time.

Ari Jacobson

Our main film project in Alaska was an instructional and promotional video for Learn To Return (LTR), the survival company we were being trained through. We filmed a few different scenes for them that would showcase their training programs as being “the best around.” We are also planning on editing a few other projects from all the footage we took – about a terabyte! – including a video that we will submit to the “video of the day” feature on GoPro, [a manufacturer of film equipment for outdoor, action, and “extreme” conditions], and a scenic and/or environmental piece. We are also allowed to take the footage and edit it into whatever we want.
So now that we are back in D.C., our work has only just begun, as we have just completed tagging and organizing all of our footage. We have a presentation on Nov. 6th where we will present our experience and work to friends, family, and the AU community through the Center for Environmental Filmmaking.
The course only confirmed for me that expedition and adventure film-making is what I want to be doing, at least in the immediate future. I love the outdoors, traveling, and film-making so it’s the perfect job for me.

One of the highlights of the Szarvas Fellowship for Russ was singing in this camp-wide performance symbolizing the six days of creation.

Doug Russ, Westport
Szarvas Fellow, Camp Szarvas, Hungary
Doug Russ, 17, is a graduate of Bi-Cultural Day School in Stamford and will be a senior at Staples High School in Westport. He and his family are members of The Conservative Synagogue in Westport.
Russ was among 24 North American high-school students selected for the Szarvas Fellowship, a two-week program at Camp Szarvas, the largest international Jewish summer camp, in Hungary. A joint project of the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, Camp Szarvas brings together more than 2,000 Jewish campers, aged 8 to 18, from more than 25 countries.
I decided to attend the Szarvas program because, after doing research on Ethiopian Jewry for a major research paper my junior year, I realized how much more is out there in the world in terms of different types of Judaism and different kinds of Jewish people. I wanted to experience sharing Jewish heritage with my Jewish peers coming to this camp from around the world, and I was eager to learn about their experiences as Jews in the countries they live in.  I knew that Camp Szarvas offered an incredible opportunity to do this.
Before I got to Camp Szarvas, I anticipated that I would spend most of my time in camp activities and programs with Jews from other countries, separated from most of the other Americans much of the time. Thus, I was a little anxious upon arrival, expecting to spend most of my time with non-English speakers. Luckily, many spoke English well enough to have a conversation. I was not expecting to spend as much time as we did together as a group of American teenagers from all over the country, and we built strong connections with each other as we shared our own varied experiences as American Jews.
As Szarvas Fellows, we were expected to act as leaders in the camp by being outgoing toward kids of all ages (8 to 18) and fostering a general excitement and appreciation for Judaism. Beyond cheering every day in the dining hall in Hebrew, English, Hungarian, and a host of other languages, the other American fellows and I made friends from many other nations during “mifgashim,” which were structured activities we took part in with one country at a time. The Americans also spent a significant amount of time together in our own activities, which gave us a chance to explore our personal Jewish identity. Every day we participated as a group in a different activity focused on topics like Zionism, American Jewish identity, and the different movements of Judaism.
One of the many highlights for me was being given an aliyah at an Orthodox synagogue in Budapest. It was incredible to find myself reciting the same blessings and performing the same rituals that I am used to in America, but alongside Jews who spoke a different language and were living half a world away. Another highlight was Torah study under the trees on Shabbat afternoon at the camp, where we discussed Avraham’s conversation with God concerning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. A couple other high points included singing in a camp-wide performance symbolizing the six days of creation, reading the book of Eicha for Tisha B’Av, and biking through the beautiful Hungarian countryside.
What surprised me most about the experience was that I discovered so much about my Jewish identity from the other American students when I was expecting to learn the most from campers representing other countries like Turkey, Croatia, India, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. The American group set aside an hour each day at the camp to share “check-ins,” where, one by one, all 24 of us spent anywhere from five to 35 minutes explaining our life stories, major struggles, and Jewish journeys, followed by questions from the group. That, in addition to our separate activities focused on various Jewish topics, enabled me to me really explore my own Jewish identity, place it in the context of the other fellows’ identities, and more clearly define myself as a Jew and understand what it means to be Jewish.
It was also the embracing of pluralism at the camp that surprised me. I was under the impression that I would be attending a camp that followed the Modern Orthodox way of doing things, when in fact it was totally acceptable to not follow Jewish law in the Orthodox manner and to celebrate whatever type of religiosity and observance level you practice. Lastly, I did not expect to have as much free time at the camp as we did, which ended up proving so valuable in meeting, talking, and just hanging out with the other campers.

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