By Aaron Gorodzinsky
Director of Campaign and Security Planning
What if we could prevent antisemitism before it even begins? That’s the goal of Student to Student, a program empowering high school students to share their experiences of Judaism with non-Jewish high school students.
During the Summit to Combat Antisemitism in March of this year, our community learned about an initiative called Student to Student. Student to Student is a program of Be the Narrative, a national nonprofit organization that develops interactive educational programs connecting Jewish and non-Jewish peers to learn about Judaism and dispel stereotypes.
After several conversations with the organization, our community is about to launch its own chapter of Student to Student. Naomi Schachter, our lay leader for the initiative, and I anticipate assembling a team of 12 local Jewish students to be trained and begin presentations next spring.
How does the program work?
The 12 students will be chosen to create a diverse group representing a mix of different movements, including Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. The intention is to have a variety of voices in the room, each presenting their own perspective of Judaism.
These students will form into three groups of four students each to participate in a training session led by Rabbi Andrew Terkel and Fawn Chapel from Be the Narrative. They will then visit predominantly non-Jewish schools to present Judaism to students, sharing what their personal Judaism looks like, with the goal of preventing antisemitism before it takes root. The idea is that the more you get to know someone, the less likely you are to harbor misguided notions about them. The Jewish teens will also have the opportunity to learn about various Jewish practices from one another, gaining knowledge just as the non-Jewish teens will.
Student to Student began 30 years ago as a program of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis. Starting in 2015, with the assistance of a grant from the Natan Fund, the program expanded to four other communities. It soon outgrew its structure within the St. Louis JCRC, and the spinoff organization Be the Narrative continued the work of bringing Student to Student to additional
communities, including the Lehigh Valley.
A Typical Presentation
At a typical Student to Student presentation, the Jewish students speak about “what Judaism means to me.” They come prepared to discuss the Jewish life cycle, Shabbat, kashrut, antisemitism, the Holocaust, Israel and, if time permits, holidays.
Typically, the presentation about Shabbat begins with biblical sources and then transitions to practices such as lighting candles, reciting kiddush and sharing challah (with props: the students bring challah for their audience to enjoy) and other rituals.
Then the presentation delves into the personal: “What do I actually do for Shabbat?” Some Jewish students might share that they do not observe the rituals and that their Shabbat closely resembles what non-Jewish students do on a Friday night, while others might talk about “dinner with the folks” or how they refrain from driving, turning lights on or off, or using their phones. This wide range of practices highlights the diversity within the Jewish community.
The presentation usually also includes discussions about interests and activities, as well as explanations of the different branches of Judaism. When discussing Israel, students talk about what Israel means to them personally.
To learn more about the Student to Student program or if you know someone who should be a presenter, please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org.