Thomas Jefferson

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Student Connection for All

Posted 04/20/2023 by Brady Vinlove

Jewish club members participate in engaging activities to learn more about Jewish culture and history, like making origami butterflies to remember Holocaust victims. photo by Emily Brown

Jewish Student Connection Club isn’t only for Jewish students; it’s a place for everyone to come together, learn about Jewish culture, and have fun.

Every Monday, Jewish and non-Jewish students alike come together in room 219 to connect, learn about the culture, and eat pizza, of course. This club isn’t only unique for its connection to Jewish culture – it is also facilitated by an outside organization and Israeli emissaries to strengthen the bond to Jewish culture.

JEWISHcolorado is an organization that aims to empower and connect the Jewish community in Colorado. They have programs to link Jewish people to Israel, provide education to youth, and leadership opportunities within the community. One of these programs is Jewish Student Connection Club, which is led in 11 high schools around Denver. JEWISHcolorado provides resources for the club such as pizza, Jewish foods, and outside educators, such as Michael Kahn, the Jewish Student Connection Coordinator. Kahn explained that the main goal is to create, “an inclusive, safe space where these Jewish students and non-Jewish allies are able to learn about Jewish culture, Israel, and become student leaders in this group.” 

Kahn isn’t the only outside leader at the club – Israeli teens who recently graduated from high school also help facilitate. In Israel, everyone must serve in the national military upon turning 18 and graduating from high school. Rather than serving right after high school, some Israelis may opt for a year of service and complete their military service later, similar to a gap year with lots of time spent volunteering. Ram Schraiber and Adaya Koren are examples of such youth. They are part of JEWISHcolorado’s Shinshinim program, which connects Israeli youth with the Jewish community of Colorado by providing them with many opportunities to educate in places such as, “Jewish programs and synagogues, from pre-K to college all over Colorado,” according to Schraiber. Moving to a foreign country is a big decision; for Schraiber, this choice was motivated by his desire to experience a new culture and do something fun before joining the military. However, he says his time here has had a significant impact on him that he didn’t expect. “I’ve made many friends and helped with many important events and programs throughout the year,” he explained.

Jewish club is largely student run, from the Shinshinim to the club presidents, juniors Emily Brown and Jacob Scobey. Brown says that she hopes that TJ can learn about unique Jewish customs through the games, food, and activities in the club so that the community is more diverse and inclusive. The club presidents and the Shinshinim lead most of the activities so that members can truly connect with each other. For example, one beloved part of the club is when the Shinshinim give animated updates about Israel in order to show the positive aspects of the country that aren’t always seen in the media, and may be unknown to students.  

Rather than focusing on religion, Jewish Student Connection Club is meant to teach students about Jewish traditions, Israeli culture, and to be a place of connection for all students. Students play games, eat Jewish foods, and do crafts to learn about the customs, especially surrounding holidays going on at the time. For example, around the holiday Purim in early March, Kahn brought in Hamantaschen, jam-filled cookies eaten for the holiday, and students decorated masks to recognize the tradition of dressing up for the festivities. Students also learn important lessons about anti-semitism and identity through the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The ADL is a nonprofit organization that seeks to confront anti-semitism and all forms of hate. Once a semester, they visit Jewish club to teach, “about combating anti-semitism and other forms of bigotry,” according to Kahn.

Inclusion and allyship are at the center of Jewish club, as about one third of its members are not Jewish and many are part of other minority groups. Kahn explains that one key purpose of the club is to be a space where everyone, regardless of their identity, feels included and heard and can learn important lessons about being an ally for those in need. Brown echoes these sentiments when she says, “I hope that the TJ community gets to be more understanding of the Jewish culture because it is a minority and everyone is welcome in Jewish club.”  This view is certainly felt by freshman Micah Greunwald, who believes that it is quite important to have a place at school where he can feel proud of being Jewish and connect with the culture. If anyone at TJ is looking for an inclusive and diverse space or wants to learn more about Jewish culture while having fun, Jewish club is the place for them.