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CELEBRATING THE POWER OF YOUTH

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By: Ashira Weiss

Friday nights at Farragut High School are for football games and parties, so as Gaby Guigui would light Shabbat candles at home with her family, her sense of isolation was keenly felt. Growing up in Knoxville, at the buckle of America’s Bible Belt, Gaby is the only Jewish student in her grade.

 

Still, she felt lucky. The Guiguis are a traditional Sephardic family and Gaby felt that at least observing the traditions of Judaism meant that for her being Jewish had meaning. Other Jewish kids in her community weren’t as fortunate; though they knew they were Jewish and different for some reason, they didn’t know what it was all about. After her Rebbetzin showed her and a couple of her peers some footage of a CTeen International Shabbaton, Gaby was blown away at the thought that she could connect with thousands of other Jewish teens. And she wanted that, not just for herself, but for her younger siblings and for the other Jewish teens in Knoxville.

 

“I knew other teens were feeling the same sense of loneliness as I was and I wanted to bring them the connection I felt CTeen could offer us,” Gaby says. So there and then, she assumed leadership of the newly founded CTeen Knoxville and from that initial meeting of three, she has found and connected thirty Jewish Knoxville teens with her chapter. Together, they explore the meaning of Judaism with help from the Rabbi and Rebbetzin, celebrate Jewish holidays, and give back to their community through humanitarian projects like baking challah for Seniors and collecting cans for food banks. Most importantly though, they connect with each other, bonding with fellow Jews in a place where Jews make up less than 0.1 percent of the population.

 

Grade representative for her student government, math club member, medical club member and part of her school’s honor society, Gaby is not afraid to work hard and engage her peers. 

 

After attending CTeen Shabbaton herself and spending a weekend with hundreds of other Jews, Gaby was even more enthused. “Never in a million years did I think I would have a chance to surround myself with that many Jews,” she says. “I wanted to bring that joy and warmth back to my fellow teens in Knoxville.” So she set about planning the first Southeast Regional CTeen Shabbaton, giving her chapter a chance to join the Atlanta CTeen community for a weekend where many of them experienced for the first time what it felt like being Jewish when you were not a minority.

 

All her life Gaby has declined invites to Church, shyly excused herself for missing school on Jewish holidays and politely declined Friday night party invites. These days she no longer tries to make excuses, but educates her peers and teachers about Jewish holidays and practices. Establishing CTeen Knoxville and bolstering its numbers to ten times its original size in just four years has brought a sense of community to Knoxville’s lonely Jewish teens and Gaby feels the benefits of her efforts too. “I never shied away from being a proud Jew, but through the CTeen club that I fostered I now have the camaraderie of a family of fellow Jews, who share my experience and give me the strength to share my Judaism with others.”