High School Students Advocate for Addition of Jewish Student Connection Club
It’s nearly 11:00 a.m. on the first snowy morning of the year, and Jillian Feiger is hustling across the expansive campus of Northfield High School with an eye on reaching Building 5.
Within minutes, Feiger, JEWISHcolorado’s Director of Jewish Student Connection and IST, has arrived in a second-floor classroom, just in time to greet dozens of students gathering for the Northfield Jewish Student Connection (JSC) club.
Until this fall, Feiger traveled around the metro area to 10 high schools weekly to meet with teens. But now the number of schools has risen to 11, thanks to the initiative of two Northfield students—Senior Samantha Burrows and Sophomore Hannah Kutnick who collaborated to start the JSC club at their high school.
“I had friends who ran clubs like this at other schools,” says Samantha. “I said to myself, ‘Northfield is just as big as those schools. Why don’t we have a Jewish Student Connection?”
“There are quite a few Jewish students at Northfield, and I didn’t know many of them,” adds Hannah. “This was an opportunity to create a Jewish community at the school.”
What neither of the club founders had predicted was the overwhelming response the Northfield JSC has generated. Nearly 50 students have arrived for this Thursday morning gathering, and it’s standing room only in the classroom.
“It’s kind of crazy!” Samantha says. “When we started it, I did not think this many people would show up.”
To be clear, not every student in the room is Jewish.
“The beauty of JSC is that we welcome everyone,” says Feiger. “It’s an opportunity for non-Jewish teens to show allyship with Jewish teens and educate themselves about Jewish culture and Israel. They can be part of this community without being Jewish.”
“I think it’s a great policy to include everyone,” adds Hannah. “I wanted to create more awareness about Jewish culture and holidays, and this means that non-Jewish people can learn too.”
Joining a Jewish community
At the beginning of the Northfield JSC meeting, students line up to grab a slice of pizza while JSC Education Coordinator Maddie Snow greets everyone. She’s joined by Michael Kahn who also serves as an Education Coordinator.
As students eat lunch, they listen to a short presentation from May Sabri and Omer Dian, Shinshinim who take a look back the news of the week from Israel—what they call “Shinshinews.” Shinshinim help lead every JSC meeting, adding depth and breadth to the discussions.
“The Shinshinim tell us about Israel and that’s important,” Samantha says. “Israel is on the other side of the world, and often, we only hear about conflicts. We don’t hear about daily life.”
Next, the club turns to the activity of the day, a parody of the TV show “Fear Factor,” led by Samantha and Hannah. Using masks as blindfolds, teens volunteer to do blind taste testing of foods that may be familiar to some students and new to others: gefilte fish, matzah, and the Israeli snacks Bamba and Bissli.
Students have a variety of experiential activities at the meetings. Already this year, they competed to build the best candy sukkah, played Rosh Hashanah trivia, and tried Hebrew slang bingo. All the activities are engaging, but not all are light-hearted.
“The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is coming in to talk with us in a couple weeks, and that will be more serious,” says Hannah. “It’s important to have a good balance between the fun and serious.”
Teagan, a sophomore at Northfield, is one of the non-Jewish members of the club.
“I come because we get to learn about Jewish culture,” she says. “It’s better to learn about the way people live before you develop any prejudices.”
Nathan, a Northfield Junior, is Jewish and appreciates the chance to be part of a community. “I don’t know a lot of Jewish kids who are my age,” he says, “so this is a great chance to meet more.”
“JSC may be the first time that teens get to choose to be part of Jewish community,” Feiger says. “No one is telling them to come. They want to be there, they want to learn, and they want to stay for the community.”
Making their school more inclusive
Before they started the Northfield JSC club, Hannah and Samantha were not particularly close friends. When the two teens separately started brainstorming the idea of a club, their mothers—Carla Kutnick and Jodi Burrows—connected them. Now the Northfield students participating in JSC have joined 500 individual metro area teens already involved in JSC clubs so far this year.
“I knew Jews know about Judaism, but I didn’t know what other people knew, and I wanted to teach them the basics.” Samantha says. “My whole purpose was to get other people here to learn. That has been really rewarding.”
“It has given me a good chance to grow as a leader,” Hannah says. “I meet with leaders of other alliance clubs, and together, we are planning events to make our school culture more inclusive.”
Within 45 minutes, the room at Northfield High School has emptied and Jillian Feiger, the two JSC Education Coordinators, and the Shinshinim are heading across town to another high school for another JSC club meeting. With the addition of Northfield, their weeks are even busier—and to them, that is very good news.
“Hannah and Samantha saw a gap at their school, took the initiative to reach out, and worked together to plan a new club,” Feiger says. “Because they started it, there is a new space for Jewish teens at Northfield High School. It’s really amazing, and I’m very proud of them. I can’t wait to see how it goes in the future.”