From left: Alexa Roth, 15, of Stony Brook, Rory Eisenstein, 15,...

From left: Alexa Roth, 15, of Stony Brook, Rory Eisenstein, 15, of Rocky Point, Nataniela Khanimova, 15, of South Setauket, and Mya Declue,18, of Smithtown at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury for the CTeen International Jewish Teen Summit on Sunday. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

More than 3,000 Jewish teens from across Long Island, the country and the globe gathered Sunday in Westbury to close a four-day conference focused on their faith, heritage and making a difference.

Participants and organizers of the CTeen International Jewish Teen Summit said the annual gathering, which ended Sunday with a concert and event at the NYCB Theatre at Westbury, was even more pressing this year as young Jewish people grapple with the toll of the Israel-Hamas war and more antisemitic incidents worldwide.

“The world has experienced and watched up close things that we never thought possible,” said Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, an official at Chabad World Headquarters in Brooklyn who helped organize the conference.

“Many of these teens are the only Jewish teens in their schools … So for them, October 7th was a wake-up call.”

In some cases, the rabbi said, Jewish teenagers have received love and support since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, in others they've felt abandoned by friends.

“They’re looking for community and friends that share the commonality to understand what's right, what's wrong, and what they can stand up for,” Kotlarsky said. “And that's where this gathering takes on a whole new purpose and meaning.”

Mya Declue, an 18-year-old senior at Smithtown West High School, took part in the four-day conference with a group of students from the CTeen Stony Brook chapter. She said it was empowering for her and her friends.

“I love just being here and meeting new people,” Declue said, as music blasted from a tent outside the theater and groups of young people milled about.

“Being together and feeling the vibe of everybody and the pride that's in the air,” she added, “I just love the experience.”

Most teens who participated were between the ages of 15 and 18. Over the four days, they soaked in New York City sites and landmarks, Shabbat services, meals and workshops. One highlight: a Saturday night gathering in the middle of Times Square. The theme of the conference was “Count on Me.”

“Today’s youth can get caught up in a lot of interesting places and things, and religion, purpose, spirituality doesn't always talk to them,” Kotlarsky said. “We felt the need to be able to take a message and customize it for them.”

CTeen Stony Brook member Alexa Roth, 15, of Stony Brook, said she enjoyed meeting new people and having the chance to embrace her Jewish community. 

Said Rory Eisenstein, 15, of Rocky Point, and also a member: “I've never seen this many Jews in the same place all at once, and I thought that was really cool.”

More than 200 teenagers from Israel attended the event, including 15-year-old Tohar Cohen, who lives near the border of Gaza.

“I met a lot of new friends from all over the world,” he said. “It’s fantastic.”

Cohen was sleeping on Oct. 7 when the bombing started. His mother woke him and they hid in a bunker.

“My family is OK,” he said, “but I have a lot of friends who were murdered on the seventh of October.”

Cohen said people he knew went to the nearby Nova Festival to try to save those who were attacked while attending the concert.

“They came to our homes and we gave them food and a lot of water,” he said. “They were very scared.”

This was the first time Cohen had been to the United States. He said what immediately dazzled him was Manhattan’s skyscrapers, the Statue of Liberty and Times Square.

“[Visiting] America was my dream — always,” he said.

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