Trek West #1: Shabbat in La La Land

Shalom from La La Land!  

We arrived here Wednesday morning after our long bus trek from Las Vegas and went straight for lunch and shopping at The Grove, a large outdoor shopping mall with most major stores, delicious food choices, and even an incredible farmers market. The teens had a couple hours to eat and explore before we regrouped and headed to the Museum of Tolerance, a Holocaust focused multi-media museum, and the educational wing of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which explores the impacts of racism and prejudice in our history. 
In the evening we visited the Santa Monica Pier and took in a beautiful sunset before heading to our hotel to check-in. We got an early start and spent the majority of the day Thursday volunteering around Los Angeles, followed by an early dinner in Culver City. Afterward, we explored Venice Beach where we had free time and the teens had opportunities to shop, skate-board, bike down the boardwalk, all the while doing some fantastic people watching. Some even met famous social media influencers. In the evening we returned early enough to the hotel that some of us went to do laundry while others hung out around the pool. Sleep came quickly last night as we have had long days this week, and the teens (and surely staff, too) are excited about the coming of our second Shabbat together.
As staff, we gain so much on this trip by seeing this part of the United States through the eyes of the teens. Their perspectives and excitement add so much to what is already an incredible trip, and the following paragraphs truly capture the unique and special opportunity we have. 
Enjoy! Here are the teens:”After lunch and a shopping break at The Grove we headed to the Museum of Tolerance in LA. At the museum, we toured the Holocaust exhibit lead by Holocaust experts. We were taught about the history before, during, and after the holocaust. After that more somber part of the day, we drove to Santa Monica for a fun night on the pier. At the pier, many of us saw Daddy Long Neck and several other famous people. While strolling along the pier we had a chance to ride on the roller coasters and other rides and walked down to the beach to see the bright and beautiful sunset. The energy on the pier was fun and chill. This was definitely one of the best nights of the trip so far.” ~Danielle Z.
“As we drove through L.A., I noticed how beautiful of a town it was. Everything seemed so much brighter and the shops were even gleaming in the daylight. We pulled up to The Grove and all got out bubbling with excitement. Many of the girls and I practically ran to Brandy Melville. We shopped until we dropped. The clothes were so cute and we all had such an amazing time picking out and trying on tops, shorts and jewelry. After shopping, we walked around this amazing outdoor shopping mall. It was truly a perfect day with the sun beaming bright as a diamond. After strolling and taking pictures, we went to eat lunch at a cute cafe called Marmalade. The food was absolutely delicious, perfectly matching the outstanding vibes of the day.
Before the day came to a close, we took a trip to the Santa Monica Pier. Our heads were bobbling with which way to turn not knowing where to look as there was so much excitement with the pier bouncing with energy. Between the rollercoaster, Ferris wheel and various shops, the pier truly had it all. A bunch of the girls and I first went to the ice cream store, where we all got the same thing—a waffle cone with Cookie Monster ice cream…delicious! We had the best time walking around the pier while eating ice cream and peering around at the fabulous views. The ocean surrounded us and the sun was setting. After walking around the pier, we went to do more shopping on Santa Monica Blvd. Tiny lights hung from the clean and gorgeous streets below. The sun was setting behind the palm trees, which made for perfect pictures. We strolled around the stores for a while before getting back on the bus and heading to our hotel.” ~Dylan S.
“Today, we did one of the service portions of the trip, splitting up in to two groups and volunteering for two different organizations. I was one of the ones who went to the Union Rescue Mission. As we approached the building, we saw many homeless people that were living on the streets, mostly in tents, which was very saddening to see. We took a tour of the building first, starting on the roof where most of the kids can play instead of trying to play on the street. It had a playground and a garden which was very nice. Then we toured the other floors, all of which house different programs within the United Rescue Mission, some for families, some for people transitioning out to permanent living situations, or even facilities where the guests can receive assistance to find jobs.  After the tour was over we made our way to the kitchen. We helped prepare and serve the lunch to those in need. Some jobs we had were chopping vegetables, making up the plates, serving the food, and filling in where help was needed. Some of us even learned how to properly clean dishes! We were there for about five hours. In that time we served families, single woman, and single men. Also, people that are not a part of the organization are able to come in from the streets and get lunch if needed. For me this was a very eye opening experience because it helped me appreciate what I have and realize how grateful I am for the little things that I take for granted on a day-to-day basis, like having food for lunch. This was important part of the trip for me because I was able to give back and help those that are less fortunate than me.” ~Ella S.
“When I was at Venice Beach, I had a lot of fun. First, we went to the skate park and met and saw a bunch of cool people. Then, we went to the shops which were all really cool and had a lot of stuff to buy and explore. We met famous people—Daddy Long Neck and Gucci Berry, who are very popular on Instagram and YouTube. We walked around the beach area and had a lot of fun with our friends. Overall, Venice Beach was really cool.” ~Michael W. 
“Today, we walked along a bohemian spirited beach also known as Venice Beach. I was astonished by the impeccable views and quaint shops that lined the crowded streets. However, my favorite part was running into a celebrity with over two million followers on Instagram, and he is well known for his incredibly long neck. A couple of my friends and I were able to take a picture with him, and introduce ourselves. Overall, I had a wonderful experience on Venice Beach!” ~Alyssa L. 
As staff, we acknowledge this trip would be so different if we did the itinerary with our contemporaries, but nothing beats this! We are so lucky to have a great group of teens with whom we can explore the West coast while also truly enjoying ourselves. It is hard to believe we have only hit the halfway mark as we have seen and done so much. With Shabbat approaching we are volunteering this morning at a food bank and then hitting the sandy beach of Santa Monica for an afternoon swim and chance to relax. 
Shabbat Shalom!

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