This past May, young Jewish professionals from Los Angeles spent a week in Costa Rica zip-lining in the jungle, white-water rafting in the Sarapiqui River, soaking in natural hot springs and spending Shabbat dinner together in San José.
The trip was part of JHubLA, an organization established in 2018 that brings together young Jewish professionals in their 20s to 40s, encourages them to engage with their Judaism and teaches them classes on personal development and intimacy.
Rabbi Gavin Mordechai Teller of JHubLA said that on the Costa Rica trip, the group formed strong bonds and relationships that will not soon be broken.
“There’s a magic to being somewhere exotic, far away from home, with a group of incredible Jewish people,” he said. “We laughed, we cried, we danced, we ate, we barely slept and perhaps most importantly, we became closer in that short week.”
One of the participants, Emily Rachel Shaaya, raved about how alive the trip made her feel.
“[It just engaged] all of our senses,” she said. “Seeing incredible new things, meeting amazing new people, hearing the sounds of the jungle, the waterfall, visiting those kids at the school and seeing their smiles and tasting the exotic fruits of the plantation/farm all brings perspective to what’s possible in this world.”
When the group was traveling from one destination to another on their tour bus, Teller would host in-depth, growth-oriented discussions on topics like creating meaningful relationships and how to incorporate Judaism into your every day.
“JHubLA was formed to meet people where they are in their lives.”
– Rabbi Gavin Mordechai Teller
“We noticed that sometimes the idea of welcoming Judaism into your life can feel overwhelming,” said Teller. “[There are] a lot of exciting new customs and traditions, but it can be a lot all at once. JHubLA was formed to meet people where they are in their lives.”
All of the participants on the highly subsidized tour were given kosher meals thanks to Costa Rica Kosher Adventures, and on Shabbat, they went to the Jewish community in San José to celebrate.
“We prayed in their synagogue, where some of our participants led the prayer services and got called up to the Torah,” said Teller. “We ended up having a beautiful Shabbat meal with the local community members. It was very warm, friendly and a spiritually uplifting experience.”
As part of a tikkun olam project, the group visited a local elementary school for the day to teach the kids English and help paint their building. They also played football, hopscotch and Frisbee with the children.
“We presented every kid with a gift package [of] markers, pens, crayons and paper,” said Teller. “The kids asked us if we were coming back tomorrow. They said that it was the best day of their year having us there.”
In the past, Teller hosted seven trips to Israel, the typical destination for JHubLA. However, because of the pandemic, he went somewhere that would be more accessible for people.
“We wanted to offer the same closeness you get from an Israel trip, but a bit closer to home,” he said. “We were very fortunate to find and participate in the Jewish community in Costa Rica, and thread Judaism [into] this trip to enrich the experience.”
Along with the tours, JHubLA puts on a variety of programming for participants. There are Friday night dinners at local restaurants, extravagant mansion parties in the Hollywood Hills and a weekly Torah portion class. Young professionals can also meet with marriage and family therapists and go to Shabbat meals with families in the community.
“No matter where someone is on their journey of self-discovery, we have an event or class that is perfectly suitable for their level,” said Teller.
With the Costa Rica trip and all of the JHubLA programming, Teller hopes to connect with young Jews in both a social and spiritual way.
“We offer our community a growing Jewish network of professionals as mentors and spiritual leaders while having the time of our lives and making new friends,” he said. “This trip to Costa Rica is a perfect example of these tenets of our organization.”