Vigil Provides Space for Teens to Grapple With War, Express Solidarity

Chana Grove and Diana Solomon
From left: Chana Grove, NCSY – Olami Launch gap year specialist, and Diana Solomon, senior director of 4Front Baltimore, organized the vigil with partner organizations in just two days. (Haydee M. Rodriguez)

About 100 teenagers and community members gathered for a candle-lighting at the Community Teen Vigil for Israel.

The vigil was held in an outside tent at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC on Thursday, Oct. 12. In addition to a candle-lighting, the vigil included songs, prayers and stories.

The Community Teen Vigil for Israel was a coordinated effort by 4Front, the Jewish Student Union and NCSY, in partnership with the JCC and The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, BBYO, StandWithUs, CTeen, HaZamir, JCC Maccabi, Bolton Street Synagogue, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Beth Am Synagogue.

The aim of the event was to provide a space for teenagers to come together and find comfort in community as they grappled with recent events, as well as to give them an opportunity to show solidarity with Israel following the killing of more than 1,200 people by Hamas on Oct. 7. Of the victims, 260 were young people attending a music festival in Re’im, Israel.

Thirteen teenagers lit 13 candles at the event. The teens were chosen because they have stood out as leaders in their respective youth programs, such as in BBYO, NCSY, 4Front, Maccabi and HaZamir. Included in the thirteen were the Shinshinim participants. The thirteen candles symbolized the 1,300 Israelis who were known to have been killed as of Thursday.

“It is so important to be here tonight as our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, and throughout the world, are experiencing hatred,” Rabbi Jonah Lerner, regional director of NCSY, said to the attendees at the event. “Just as with each candle, a tiny little spark can light up a powerful blaze that’s how powerful you are here, and abroad. And it is just as important to support one another.”

Other speakers at the event included the organizers, Diana Solomon, senior director of 4Front Baltimore, and Chana Grave, NCSY Olami Launch gap year specialist, as well as Adam Komensky, a teen representing the Jewish Student Union. Roni Bugatos, Matan Levy Geron and Noa Maier, three of eight Israeli teenagers participating in the Shinshinim progam in Baltimore, also spoke.

Cora Selzer, 17, is a high school senior in Ellicott City who attends Marriotts Ridge High School in Howard County. Selzer serves on 4Front’s Teen Advisory Committee. Selzer said that being around her peers has been, for her, the best way to find solace.

“Last night was important for me to connect with other teens in my community that can relate to how I am feeling as a Jew right now, as we can lean on each other and support one another during these stressful times,” she told the JT. “The vigil provided me, and all those who attended, with a way to pray for the peace and swift end to the terror and bloodshed thousands are facing in Israel and Gaza.”

Selzer said she was most struck by the Shinshinim at the event.

“Being there to support and comfort them, for what they are going through is something I can’t even begin to imagine,” she said.

Levy Geron, 18, one of the Baltimore Shinshinim, is from Ashkelon. She is also a graduate of the Diller Teen Fellows program and has been involved with the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership for several years. Ashkelon is 14 kilometers approximately 8.6 miles north of Gaza.

Levy Geron said she is grateful for the Baltimore community’s support of Israel, particularly now, when she is so far away from family and friends. She was specially honored, Levy Geron told the JT, to light one of the 13 candles and to lead the teens in a singing circle.

“This was a little light in the darkness,” she told the JT.

After the event, Solomon told the JT that providing a space for teenagers was critical.

“It was so important to us to be able to create a space for Jewish teens in Baltimore to be in community with one another to process, pray and stand in solidarity with Israel,” she said. “Many teens don’t know who they can talk to about their feelings regarding the horrific events in Israel and may not be getting support from their schools or other communities with which they are a part. We wanted to create a safe space for them to share and feel those emotions and find comfort and strength in a united community.”

Solomon added that they will continue to provide the teens with support and resources going forward, as well as service opportunities and other events in support of Israel.

Barak Herman, the CEO of the JCC of Greater Baltimore, who attended the vigil, echoed Solomon’s words.

“It’s a very painful time for the Jewish community and the worldwide community about what’s happening [with] the tragedy and war in Israel,” he said. “We want to offer a safe space for local teens to come together to express their emotions and support Israel.”

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