Every BJ Teens trip is special, but our 2023 voyage to the Dominican Republic was something very unique. I knew going in that this was going to be my last trip with BJ Teens, and the biggest one yet. A full week, the first international trip, and an entirely new experience through the trip’s focus on service learning. I’ve had a great time at all of the teen trips so far, but was still quite nervous at what exactly was going to happen. I wanted nothing more than to end on a high note.
I truly could not have predicted what came next.
For years, I’ve told anyone who would listen that what I value most about Judaism, and BJ specifically, is the community. Honest conversation, support, and a group of people that have bought in is what made every trip special, but this one was something different. A common theme of the week, as said by many of my friends, was, “Everyone who’s here wanted to be here.” That sentence seems obvious, but it was so vital to this trip’s success. What we were doing was service work that required focus and poise: things like building a house, teaching kids, and breaking down (or walking around) the language barrier. We were slowly but surely forming bonds with a community, leaving physical and emotional marks. It amazed me how everyone gave their all to the city of Cotui—and it showed, too.
My favorite moments were when our own BJ community and that of the city came together. Our patio on the front yard of our communal house was always populated with locals big and small each night. I practiced my erratic high-school Spanish, learned to play (and to love) dominoes, gave kids massive hugs and high-fives, and watched as my friends formed bonds. Hard work and listening was very important, but just as important were the moments of joy we shared. I made it a habit to introduce myself to practically everybody, and the moment that I was introduced to my Dominican counterpart—a 17-year-old teenage boy named Samuel—was one of the funniest and most joyful moments I’ve had in 5783.
The night where this theme of community stood out most was our evening with a host family. We split off into a bunch of groups, and I joined my friend Ari to meet a family spanning at least three generations. While the evening started off slow and awkward, I grew more comfortable and confident as it went on. We stumbled through each conversation with a smile. By the end of the night, we had inside jokes, the teens had requested to follow us on Instagram (don’t worry, Mom: I still didn’t get my phone back until the flight home), and the family made sure to swing by the house and talk to us almost every night after.
The best part of this trip is that if you asked all 17 teenagers to write a reflection like this, you’d get 17 completely different answers. We learned so much about the Dominican Republic, the city of Cotui, the hardships the community faces, the reasons behind what we were doing, the community members, and, really, about ourselves. But I always look for a good conversation and a new connection above all else. In that way, my week in the Dominican Republic was the perfect way to say goodbye to BJ Teen trips.
Sammy Bovitz, 12th Grade
Featured photo by Pedro Farias-Nardi