Some members of Temple Israel’s junior youth group for 7th and 8th graders, JYG, got a taste of what’s in store for them over the next four years if they join OTYG, the Omaha Temple Youth Group for high school students, when they recently traveled to St. Louis for their regional conclave.


Accompanied by Youth Group Advisor Sarah Sadofsky, Parental Chaperone Paul Miller and three members of OTYG, Hannah Perry, Morissa Miller and Hannah Radler, the nine JYG kids–Aleia Budwig, Jack Fletcher, Hannah Goodman, Emily Kazor, Olivia Nogg, Lindsay Osborne, Isabella Radler, Maddie Rauhauser and Eliana Reiss–met and mingled with their peers from around the Missouri Valley region of the National Federation of Temple Youth, or NFTY.


“It was a little hard for them to mingle right away, because they were nervous,” Sarah Sadofsky said. “But they eventually started to meet new people. The high schoolers did a good job, too, of getting our kids to engage with the other kids.”


The students attended a rockin’ Friday night service led by noted Jewish musician Rick Recht, known for bringing rock ‘n roll to Jewish summer camps around the country.


“The music was a different melody,” Hannah Goodman said. “There were drums and guitars, it was a lot different from Temple [Israel]. It was really fun.”


The kids spent part of Saturday learning about Ellis Island and how difficult it was for foreigners to immigrate to the United States.


“They talked about what it’s like to be an immigrant, to be different,” Sadofsky said. “Coming through Ellis Island, not knowing anyone, not knowing the language, I think it was a real eye-opener for our kids.”


“I didn’t realize how hard it was to get into America,” Hannah said. “If you weren’t healthy they’d kick you out and you’d have to go back to your own country. People rubbed blood on their faces to look healthy.”


The children also participated in an Ellis Island simulation that illustrated just how absurd some of the entrance requirements were.


“We did a spelling contest where if you didn’t spell the word right, you had to go to the back of the line,” Hannah said. “And if you couldn’t spell the word right, you wouldn’t get into ‘America.’”


By the end of the weekend, the JYG kids had made a lot of new friends and were looking forward to seeing them at camp and at future NFTY functions.


“By that point, all our kids were hanging out with other kids, non-Omaha kids, exchanging phone numbers and emails,” Paul Miller said.


“I didn’t think I was going to meet such good friends there,” Hannah said. The first day was kind of awkward, because they want you to meet new people, but it helped me come out of my shell.”


Hannah said she is “definitely” joining OTYG next year and looking forward to “meeting new people and seeing the people I met at this conclave again and just hanging out with Jews from across the country.”