For many kids, Saturday nights is a time to hang out with friends, perhaps at the mall or a local park, bowling alley or movie theater. But Oorah, a New Jersey-based outreach organization, has started a revolution. Those same kids have found a new place to hang on Saturday nights. It's called ChillZone.
ChillZone is open to all Jewish children of any affiliation, from elementary school age through teens. Volunteer staff members run the programs, which start off with Torah study in small groups and continues with hot pizza and nosh, fun activities and raffles with great prizes. Judging by the pictures, posted weekly on Oorah's camp Facebook page, the kids have a blast every week.
They're not just having fun. ChillZone builds a child's connection to Judaism in a very deep way. Kids with little other exposure to Judaism have a space to make friends with other Jewish kids, absorb Jewish values both formally through study and informally through the volunteer staff mentors. Before the holidays, they're likely to do a project or activity that gives over the spirit and flavor of the holiday. And they'll likely be invited to one of the many weekend retreats that Oorah hosts throughout the year at their upstate New York campus.
There are ChillZone locations across the country, fortunately with many right here in New Jersey. Stop in at a local group; it's well worth the time.