Jewish Student Connection clubs provide an invaluable safe space

Jun 3, 2024 | Article

By: Jillian Feiger
Director Jewish Student Connection (JSC) and Joyce Zeff Israel Study Tour (IST)

For the past 10 years, Jewish Student Connection (JSC) has provided a welcoming safe space for Jewish and non-Jewish students to express themselves and engage with Jewish and Israeli culture across thirteen public high schools in the Denver-Metro and Boulder area.

Each week, approximately 300 students attend a JSC club at their school. Led by their peers, both Jewish and non-Jewish students can interact with the Shinshinim (JEWISHcolorado’s teen Israeli emissaries), engage in fun activities centered around Jewish holidays, traditions, and culture, and discover what it means to be Jewish today. A senior at Thomas Jefferson High School, who serves as a JSC club leader expressed, “Being a JSC club leader allowed me to create an impact in my community and learn from people who are dedicated to learning about Judaism at school.” Similarly, another senior at Cherry Creek High School shared, “JSC has given me a sense of community and belonging at Cherry Creek High School, a place where I feel like I can express myself, have fun, and learn and connect with my Judaism and other Jewish students.”

Despite JSC clubs being the main focus, its mentorship program remains a hidden gem. JEWISHcolorado’s teen engagement professionals serve as mentors, meeting with teens one-on-one to cultivate their leadership skills and foster a bond with a trusted adult in the community. These mentor-mentee relationships serve as a compass for teens, offering guidance on dealing with antisemitism at school, facilitating constructive conversations, and making important decisions regarding college and post-high school endeavors.

Following the events on October 7th, JSC clubs looked a little different than they did 10 years ago. The week following Hamas’ attack on Israel, the primary concern of students was the well-being of the Shinshinim. They wanted to ensure that their Israeli peers were supported and had a safe space, just like they do. Our clubs that week and in the following weeks began with Shinshinim updates, which included a lot of numbers and stories about deaths, rockets, the hostages, and more. JSC clubs, which typically celebrate Jewish culture in a fun way, became a platform for seeking knowledge, engaging in discussions, and figuring out how to represent Jewish values and culture in the larger ecosystem of high school. Above all, JSC provided a sanctuary for Jewish students to be themselves and find solidarity among their peers and allies. Attendance at JSC clubs from October 7th to the end of the school year increased by almost 20%. According to the survey given at the end of the school year, 90% of students agreed that JSC has been an invaluable safe space for them since October 7th.

After a while, just like the rest of the world, JSC clubs returned to business as usual, balancing the somberness and joy in programs about Jewish and Israeli culture. JSC and the ADL have had a strong partnership for the past 6 years creating unique programs for clubs on how to combat antisemitism. This partnership was more relevant than ever this year and gave students the confidence to stand up to antisemitism at their schools. Some other unique clubs this school year were the collaborations with the Muslim Student Alliance and Arab American Heritage Club. These collaborations allowed for students in the same schools to speak out and share their similarities and differences in a productive way.

Another byproduct of JSC is the connection between the public high schools and the Jewish community. This year, that connection has been invaluable. Though there had been incidents of antisemitism, there was no precedent for what students experienced after October 7th. Our partnership with these schools enabled us to be on the frontline and proactive in combating antisemitism and educating teachers, administrators, and students. Principals, teachers, and students had a direct connection to JSC professionals—and vice versa—and were able to work together on how to support Jewish students.

I have been the Director of Jewish Student Connection for the past 6 years, and I have never been prouder to be a part of this program than this year. Working in partnership with schools, principals, teachers, and students is always meaningful, but since October 7th, these collaborations have been beyond impactful. It’s not only the program itself and the schools, but the students who graduated and how JSC helped shape them into the young Jewish leaders they are today and all the amazing work they are doing in their Jewish community and know that I am always here to support them.

This past year, we expanded to 13 schools in the Denver-metro and Boulder area, and we are continuing to expand next year. If you know any Jewish students who aspire to be leaders and initiate a club at their school, let us know by emailing jsc@jewishcolorado.org.
Jewish Student Connection by the Numbers for 2023-2024 School Year:

  • 3 High Schools across 4 school districts
  • 59 Student Leaders
  • Over 700 unique teens attended club at least once
  • Over 80 one-on-one meetings
  • Over 1000 pizzas and 2500 bagels consumed

Help me ensure the future of this important work of connecting and educating teens across Colorado by donating to JSC! A gift of $3,600 will fund a JSC club for a full year, including program materials and pizza lunches for participants. Together, we can build bridges, broaden minds, and promote inclusion throughout our amazing state. Donate here and select Jewish Student Connection (JSC) from the designation drop-down menu.