This summer, I spent five weeks working as a teacher’s assistant at the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Southold, New York. I’ve spent many summers working at this location, and this summer was the most time I’ve spent there. I worked under Mark Cappellino, educating young local children about the marine ecosystems that surround their homes and schools. The children are always fully engaged in learning about the various animals that inhabit Peconic Bay – they especially love to observe the huge horseshoe crabs and minuscule seahorses. Their favorite activity is to drag a seine net through the water off the beach to see what kind of animals they can catch. Another successful summer at Cornell Cooperative Extension!
This was my third year being apart of my temple’s high school organization (called the A-TEEM). A-TEEM stands for Assistant Temple Emanu-El Madrichim (Leaders). This is mainly for previous students of the religious school who are now in 9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th grade. Our main jobs are to deliver snack (apple juice and pretzels usually) to the classrooms, helping deliver notes to the teachers, creating lesson plans and giving presentations, helping out around the temple community, and teaching lessons to 3rd-5th graders. My favorite part of this is probably being able to teach lessons to the 3rd-5th graders. What happens is, we get a quote for the year and teach lesson plans (given to us) throughout the year based on the quote. There are three quotes used and they are repeated in a cycle. The quote/question(s) I taught this year were from Pirkei Avot, a 2,000 year old book of Jewish wisdom, not found in the torah. It says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”. With the exception of some special holiday lesson plans (Passover, Hanukkah, Yum Kippur…), we taught lessons about this quote for the whole year. I also love the program because I get to see my friends and work together with them.
In seventh grade, I had the privilege of discovering a small but passionately run soup kitchen when my two friends asked me to come with them to volunteer at one of the Friday dinners their church was holding. Since that day, I have regularly been volunteering at St. James Church, and have met so many inspiring individuals who want to make a change in others lives. St. James is located on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and although they are a church, their soup kitchen is open to any person wishing to volunteer, regardless of their religious beliefs. The church runs the soup kitchen on Tuesday mornings and Friday evenings, and provides service to around 90 homeless individuals at each meal. Although I have gone many times, a Friday evening from earlier this year stuck out for me. I arrived with my two friends who belong to the church, and we began by helping chop vegetables for the meal. Others helped to set up the tables in the main hall, placing flower vases on each one, while more people brought bread baskets out to the tables. After we had almost finished prepping the meal, we came together for a moment of grace. I am not Catholic, and may not have been thanking God for allowing me to be there, but I was still reminded of how lucky I was, and how much this meal meant for the people receiving it. We continued prepping and serving the food, and I remember another volunteer running back down to the kitchen gasping that there was an extra vegetarian plate needed, asking if we had already sent the veggie plates out, and if there be enough food left. Her worries were resolved as we had extra and made up another vegetarian plate, which I brought upstairs. When I found the woman who had claimed to be vegetarian, and placed the plate in front of her, she looked at me with such a wide smile and without even having to speak, her eyes told me how grateful she was. I have come back to the soup kitchen many times after that night, but I will always remember the surprise vegetarian and her soulful eyes.