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Youth Experience the New Mexico Interfaith Immersion Trip

The following article was contributed by Diane Fisher, Community Relations Council Director of the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley and Co-Director of the Teen Interfaith Leadership Council (TILC) of Santa Clara County. It has also been published at the Summer 2017 issue of JValley Magazine. Three Junior Youth Association (JRYA) members from the Bay Area and one JRYA member from Chicago of the Shinnyo-en Buddhist Order took part in this fabulous New Mexico immersion trip this summer. As the couple of quotes from the TILC of Santa Clara County will state below, the Shinnyo-en JRYA members also commented how fortunate they were to be able to meet and learn from other teen participants of different faith traditions as well as from all of the spiritual and religious sites that they visited in New Mexico.

Please read on to learn more about this trip and also see the video and the photos that the participants took.

The Teen Interfaith Leadership Council of Santa Clara County wrapped up its fifth New Mexico Immersion Trip on July 11 with a visit to Temple Beth Shalom in Santa Fe.  The Zoroastrian, Buddhist, Catholic, Episcopal, Agnostic, Hindu and Jewish students all asked Rabbi Neil Amswych lots of questions, some coming out of the various topics they had probed during visits to Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh and Catholic houses of prayer and meditation.

The trip provides a unique context of openness and exploration, and the students respond by allowing themselves to be vulnerable.  They probe issues not often addressed by adults.  The issue of being part of a minority group, and the stress of being marked as “other” by fellow students, was discussed.  The mutual support provided within the group leads several students, every year, to remark that they now feel more confident and comfortable to be who they are.

The Teen Council has a new relationship this year with Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School.  This is a school focused on empowering students from underserved communities in San Jose.  The students attend classes four days a week, and work one day in a job placement through the school.  The earnings from that job constitute the private Jesuit school tuition, which otherwise would be out of reach for their families.  Two students from Cristo Rey joined the trip, and they will participate in the monthly meetings of the council through the school year.  They bring a strong interest in social justice and community service, and have lots of ideas on how to put that interest into action.

A highlight of this year’s New Mexico trip was attending the Taos Pueblo Pow Wow.  While the pageantry of a pow wow, with elaborate costumes adorned with feathers, beads and bells is dramatic, the spiritual nature of the event was also clear to our teens.  They sat near the drumming circles where the steady, strong beating can be experienced like the pulse of the universe.  The sense of awe and respect is powerful. Prior to attending the Grand Entry evening dance ceremonies, the students visited a Pueblo heritage program for young people, where they learned that despite the tragic oppression of native culture, resilient leaders still work to pass the traditions along to the next generation.

These words from two of the students show the deep impression that this trip makes.

They say there are a few moments in your life that shape the rest of it, and I’ve definitely had a couple of those moments during this life-changing experience of a trip. From serving the homeless at a soup kitchen to reciting the Hare Krishna prayers in a Hindu Temple to going to a 1000-year-old Native American Pueblo Nation. A theme of the whole trip for me was the power of conversation. I learned so much from just talking to the locals and the native people, and by just having conversations with so many people you get to hear their life story and all of the messages they’ve learned in their experiences. Materialistic things and even people come and go in life, but the connections you make with these people, places, or things will last forever. Cameron Sotoodeh, Zoroastrian student

The trip to New Mexico with the interfaith group was very meaningful to me and spoke a lot to me. I got to experience different cultures and religions I wasn’t familiar with. I got a better understanding of religions such as Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and more. I met new friends who practice these religions and got to understand their perspective of life. Although we have much conflict in the world motivated by religion that’s been lasting for centuries, I learned that most religions have a goal of peace and harmony. All we have to do is remember what religion is about and its teaching to treat others with respect, no matter their backgrounds. I am so glad I got to experience this educational trip and got to open my mind and teach others of my religion, Judaism and get to see them open their minds. After this trip, I now believe that with work and education of young generations, we can work our way to peace in the world and in ourselves. Anat Baird, Jewish student