By Leah Rivkin
It’s been a summer of cancelled plans and ruined vacations for most kids around the world, but for the hundreds of Jewish teens who joined CTeen Road Trips, the show – or camp – has been able to go on. CTeen Road Trips, an innovation of the Chabad Teen Network (CTeen), takes pods of three to twenty teens on adventurous mini-travel camps that explore the sights and thrills of their own local region.
CTeen Road Trips first launched in 2018, joining a roster of CTeen travel camps that had already been an international highlight for six years. Hundreds of teens from North and South America, Europe, and Asia were participating in CTeen Xtreme, a high-octane, adventure-filled travel camp through Western US, and in CTeen Heritage Quest, a trip through Poland and Israel tracing the past and future of their Jewish heritage from the ghettos and concentration camps to thriving Jewish life in the Holy Land. The results were palpable, with teens returning home more active in their Jewish communities, more engaged in Jewish knowledge and practice, and many pledging to only marry Jewish.
The effects of the summer programs were so profound and life-changing that CTeen organizers felt compelled to make the experiences accessible to every Jewish teen. Many teens can’t participate in travel camps, either because of conflicting schedules with summer school or jobs, or because they couldn’t afford even the subsidized cost of such trips. How could CTeen extend the opportunity for a powerfully Jewish overnight camp experience to every Jewish teen?
CTeen Road Trips were the answer. The revolutionary program empowers teens to work together with their chapter leaders to customize two- to six-day local road trips, giving teens the impact of a Jewish travel camp experience while enjoying fun and adventure in their own backyard. CTeen leaders facilitate as teens prioritize destinations, research routes, and choose places to stay. Together they plan itineraries and schedules, budget expenses for travel, lodging, and activities, and organize menus and other logistics, all tailored to the style of their choosing.
“CTeen Road Trips have two unique benefits,” explains Rabbi Nachman Rivkin, director of CTeen Summer. “It allows teens to develop their leadership skills as they craft their group trips. And CTeen Road Trips pack the ‘magic’ of the immersive camp experience into a short, affordable program that’s accessible to every Jewish teen.”
Then came Summer 2020. With national and international trips out of the question, this niche program rose to become the centerpiece of CTeen Summer.
As COVID hit and took down hundreds of summer camps and programs with it, CTeen Road Trips were the proverbial last man standing. Hyper-localized, outdoor-based, and designed for small groups, CTeen Road Trips were perfectly suited for each chapter to adapt and tailor to the regulations and circumstances of their region.
Dozens of chapters in the US, Europe, and Australia led hundreds of teens on bespoke trips designed to the specific needs of their community. They sailed on lakes and barbecued at parks, hiked mountains and climbed ropes courses, fished and rode horses. As they bonded over s’mores and schmoozed through camp-outs, the teens took a break from the anxiety and uncertainty they’ve experienced for the last six months. They discussed Jewish life and meaning, listened to Torah classes and shared inspiration, returning home physically exhilarated and spiritually uplifted.
“Thank you to all those who made the CTeen Road Trips possible. I don’t know what we would have done this summer without it,” wrote Nelli Yagoda of Jericho, New York. Her daughter Abby participated in four different road trips offered by the Roslyn CTeen chapter.
“I really think the trip helped us bond with each other and with Judaism. I feel like now I really know what being Jewish means,” wrote Isaac from Colorado, who joined the trip organized by CTeen Denver.
CTeen was founded ten years ago with a mission to mobilize the unparalleled global force of the Chabad Shluchim network to engage Jewish high school kids with their Jewish identity and community, instilling Jewish values in the leaders of tomorrow. Today, CTeen has become the fastest growing Jewish teen network in the world, reaching 100,000 kids through more than 600 chapters in 37 countries. A robust year-round schedule of social, humanitarian and educational programs fuse fun, friendship, leadership development, mitzvah observance and engaging Torah study.
In a summer of disappointment, cancelled plans and a worrying growth in levels of anxiety and mental-health concerns, especially among teens, the innovation of CTeen Road Trips gifted hundreds of Jewish teens a summer of joy, friendship and meaning.
“The CTeen network is nurturing and supporting the Jewish leaders of tomorrow at a time when they are forming and developing their identity as Jews and their place in the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, executive director of CTeen’s parent organization Merkos 302. “We are proud of our leaders who were not cowed by difficult circumstances, but rose to ensure that every teen in their community was afforded a joyfully Jewish, safe and life changing summer experience.”
Leah Rivkin is co-director and COO of the Chabad Teen Network (CTeen), and serves as the creative force behind CTeen’s programs, resources, and multimedia.