Thanksgiving is a time for families and friends to gather and celebrate the bounty of the season, but for many in Connecticut, the holiday is a stark reminder of their struggle with hunger.
And so, determined to sweeten the holiday for families in need, JTConnect gathered together more than 120 Hartford area Jewish teens recently to bake nearly 300 pumpkin pies that were then donated to nine different charities for their holiday meal distribution.
Kylie Gertner was among them. In fact, says the West Hartford high school senior who volunteered to bake pies at the annual JTConnect event for several years, it’s her favorite event of the year. “It gives me a chance to give back while having fun with my friends! I think it is so important to give back to my community, especially this time of the year because I receive so much from everything and everyone in it,” she says.
That’s the way all the teens who take part in the annual event feel, notes Cara Levine, JTConnect associate program director. “It felt so good to be able to come together in such a big way to give back to the community,” she says.
JTConnect is a program that engages teens from across the Greater Hartford community in fun, interactive and thought-provoking educational and social experiences grounded in Jewish learning and values. The teens examine religion, history and traditions through hands-on programming that includes classroom study, volunteer projects and special events.
“Planning the pie bake was such a meaningful experience,” says Lily Temkin, a high school freshman from West Hartford. “Not only does the pie bake allow me to give back to my community, but it encourages others to do the same in a fun and interactive way.” Temkin helped plan the event, along with teens Elijah Chaimovitch, Kylie Gertner, Sophie Kudler, Lili Rojek, Danielle Skott, Sam Shefsky, Ellie Kay, and Isaac Gonzalez.
The pie-baking event kicked off with a bit of advice from Lauren Banister of Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, who challenged the teens “not to let this be the only step you take to ensure people in your community are fed. Let this be the first step. The step that educates you, that makes you inspired, that makes you interested and really binds you together as a community in using your collective voice in this fight to end hunger.”
“Our tradition is explicit in commanding us to feed the hungry and care for the stranger,” says Eric Maurer, JTConnect executive director. “It is inspiring to see the commitment of teens to put Jewish values to action and make a difference in repairing our world.”
Main Photo: Teen volunteering at the JTConnect Thanksgiving pie-bake included (l to r) David Cohen, Jonathan Pincus, Ari Sobel Pressman, Cooper Raich, Serena Vanderhulst and Pauline Golder.