When the swastika showed up at Glen Rock High School about two years ago, Davian Geckman, then a sophomore, began working with school administrators to come up with a plan. He found other students equally concerned when the school’s Jewish Students’ Union club was also involved in formulating the response. came.
“My grandfather is a Holocaust survivor,” Davian said. “So for me, fighting anti-Semitism is a way to prevent the kind of horror that Grandpa had to go through.
“He is deeply involved in Holocaust education. He visits schools and speaks to students about his experiences.So participating in JSU is a way for me to continue his important work. ”
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JSU, part of NCSY, is the National Synagogue Youth Conference, Youth Division of the Union of Orthodox Churches, which operates Jewish Cultural Clubs in public schools in the United States and Canada.
Last year, in addition to his school’s JSU club activities, Davian served as a member of the JSU Regional Committee and helped coordinate inter-school JSU events in New Jersey.
As a senior at Glen Rock High School, he became more involved and is now co-president of the school’s JSU. In that role, he encourages other students to get involved and helps organize weekly events at the school. At this event, students discuss upcoming Jewish holidays and other Jewish content. “The goal is to build a community of people educated about Judaism and Jewish culture, while also providing a safe space for Jewish students to spend time together,” he explained.
This year, Davian also serves as president of JSU’s newly formed Student Council in the United States and Canada. The Board has been working on ways to expand JSU’s reach both within the school where the club was founded and at other schools. “Participating in JSU has been a wonderful experience for me. I really enjoy my friends, made from all over the country,” Davian said. “We want to make these opportunities available to more students, so we are working on expanding them.”
Ben Bickel, another senior at Glenrock High School, joined JSU two years ago for similar reasons. said. “These are usually in the form of swastikas painted on public places and school grounds.”
Ben is currently another Co-President of the Glen Rock Club and an active member of the National Student Executive Committee.
Last month, Davian and Ben joined 150 JSU student leaders from 90 public schools across the country for JSU’s second annual presidents’ meeting. Participants came from other New Jersey towns such as Highland Park, Teaneck, Tenafly, and from New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, California, South Carolina, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Ohio. We got together. This two-day conference of his focused on leadership training and community building, made possible by JSU supporters Avi and Becky Katz of Teaneck.
As members of the National Student Executive Committee, Davian and Ben were also involved in planning leadership conferences. The student committee organized a social activity and solicited input on who the speakers would be. During preparation, we considered “how to help participants connect with each other in such a short amount of time, and how to ensure the event was both educational and fun.”
For both Ben and Davian, the conference emphasized that as JSU leaders they are part of a larger community.
“It really helped me understand the scope of the JSU and how effective our work as an organization to fight anti-Semitism and spread knowledge about Jews is. It has also helped me connect with many other JSU clubs in the area,” said Ben.
The conference made it clear that “JSU is more than just a local chapter.”
That was one of the important goals of the conference, explained Ravi Shlomo Mandel, Director of Special Projects at JSU. “We have a large network of Jewish teen leaders, and the conference is a forum for them to come together with other leaders like themselves.
“Sometimes they feel alone,” he continued. “They are so few in the public school system these days, which makes it difficult for them to be proud Jewish leaders. Giving can be life-changing. It reveals to be part of something with far greater influence and influence than the club.
“Forums like this motivate and empower teenagers to continue to be proud Jewish leaders, to continue to educate their fellow Jewish students, and to continue to incorporate Judaism into their schools. The goal is for them to come home feeling refreshed and motivated to empower their friends and school community.”
Another important goal of the conference was to provide leadership training covering topics such as effective marketing strategies and team building to deepen participants’ understanding of important Jewish issues.
Speakers included Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin, director of education at NCSY and founder of 18Forty media company. Aliza Abrams-Konig, Director of Student Leadership, Yeshiva University. Avital Chizyk Goldschmidt, an orthodox journalist and Rebetzin of Manhattan’s Altnoy Synagogue.
“This kind of conference educates and inspires not only the participants but by extension everyone around them,” said Rabbi Mandel. “Meetings act as sparks. Learning and impact happens at the event, but then you take it home and share it with everyone.”
Both Davian and Ben find the training session useful. Davian appreciated ideas on how to combat anti-Semitism and learned that a sense of community tends to lead to more cohesive teamwork.
Ben has learned to “advocate your point of view, get out of your comfort zone and speak out publicly, and lead the action while being open to new ideas.”
The meeting also included brainstorming sessions and time for teen leaders to set goals and work with each other to plan future school club activities and inter-school events. Davian found the discussion on how to expand JSU’s reach and make club meetings more meaningful.
There were also fun activities and free time to build community and friendships. Davian especially enjoyed the community aspect of the conference. “It was a valuable opportunity to interact with colleagues from all over the country. I think it was easy for the participants to connect with each other because they had a lot in common. It was very rare.
Ravi Mandel said, “The aftereffects of the conference are that the leaders return home with more motivation and refined leadership skills, resulting in more students participating in the proud and stimulating environment of JSU. I am.”
“This conference was a huge success,” added Ben. “I am so happy to have helped organize it. I’m excited to have had a good time and learned something new.”