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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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Program gives teen girls useful skills

Tags: Jewish learning
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Rivky Coffer, left, with two staff members at Ashreinu's overnight camp.

TORONTO — Ashreinu, a year-round program for Jewish girls, offers a unique opportunity for students at Beth Jacob High School for Girls to learn leadership skills and also provide a service to the greater community, says the organization’s director, Rivky Coffer.

Approaching its 20th year of existence, the non-profit organization (campashreinu.ca) was started in 1994 by two Grade 11 students who now live in Israel.

Ashreinu has grown to serve hundreds of girls, mainly public school students but also some Jewish day school students, Coffer said. “It’s a beautiful mix.”

In addition to programs such as Shabbatons, trips, parties and Sunday school, there are two affiliated summer camps – a day camp and an overnight camp.

The Sunday school offers one-on-one learning with volunteers at whatever level is appropriate.

“It’s not just learning aleph-bet,” Coffer said. “If a girl doesn’t know how to read, it’s reading. Or, if a child is in yeshiva day school, they could be doing their Rashi and Chumash homework, and we help them… almost like private tutoring.”

As well, there is a teen mentoring program and a program for alumnae. “We always have to grow with our girls,” Coffer said.

Coffer, a native of New York who has been with the organization for 14 years and teaches Grade 8 Judaic studies at Eitz Chaim Day School, said there was “a need for an organization for children from unaffiliated homes, or even girls that are in day schools.”

Summer is “a good time to enhance their Jewish pride, and make it more real,” she said. “Sometimes kids go to school, and things are in theory, but when you come to camp, Judaism is alive and exciting.”

Day camp is held at Beth Jacob, which has an indoor swimming pool.

Some 300 campers attend the day camp, and about 65 girls go to the overnight camp in Muskoka.

Adina Kerzner, a 20-year-old Ashreinu volunteer who has been involved with the organization since Grade 11, said, “I love working with kids, and wanted to get them excited about being Jewish. All that aside, it’s a fun place to work. You feel like one big family.”

As well, she has gained practical experience and skills. “I used to hate making phone calls,” said Kerzner, who is working on a degree in social work at Yeshiva University. “In high school, I was the technical head, arranging transportation and putting events together… You learn how to do things.”

Although she signed up because her friends were becoming involved and she wanted to volunteer, her perspective has evolved.

She said that participants and volunteers both “end up learning so much more about themselves and about Judaism.” Some of the younger girls have asked her questions about Judaism that she’d never really considered before, she added.

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