In a school of approximately 400 students, two Jewish students at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson have established a Jewish club.
Co-founders Sydney Grossman, 17, and Ben Sindell, 17, held the first meeting of the Jewish Student Union in September in celebration of Rosh Hashanah, along with the help of their chemistry teacher, Jon Butensky-Bartlett. The school has about 15 Jewish students and around 45 students signed up.
They are operating as an official club of the school.
Sydney, a junior who lives in Akron and attends Temple Israel in Bath Township, said conversation to establish the club started last year while consulting with Butensky-Barlett, who students call “Mr. BB.”
“We went to Mr. BB that we wanted to bring the Jewish student union back, but better than it was before,” said Sydney, referencing former iterations of the club that didn’t stick after the students involved would graduate. “We wanted to have more activities and be an active club. Before they didn’t do too much, and part of that was due to COVID-19, but we wanted to bring it back and offer some opportunities to go to temple and do service trips.”
Sydney and Ben said they felt compelled to create a Jewish club and add to the school’s diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
“We have a lot of other DEI groups here at WRA, like the Black Student Union and the Asian American Club, and these are much bigger groups that a lot of students are part of,” said Ben, who is a senior from San Francisco, but boards at WRA. He sometimes attends services at Temple Beth Shalom in Hudson. “They are classified as affinity groups. So, we felt that starting one, even as a small minority, was important. We wanted students to be able to come out and feel that Jewish culture and be able to go on specialized trips.”
WRA used to have Holocaust education programming, said Ben, but the teacher who taught it left the school at the beginning of 2020. So, the two students felt compelled to bring Jewish experiences back to their educational community any way they could, he said.
“A lot of the Jewish history and whatever she tried to teach us left with her, so there is a lack of teaching within classes about the Holocaust and Jewish heritage,” Ben said. “It is important to recognize some of the important aspects of the heritage, besides just general lessons. Something like this gives students the chance to learn more and to pursue that knowledge.”
Now a few weeks into their programming, Sydney and Ben are looking forward to making more trips as a group to temple, organize meetings, plan service outings, and establishing a recognizable presence at the school. They already worked to have their dining hall leave out apples and honey during the High Holy Days, Ben said.
“It’s not an intensive, Jewish religious-leaning group, it’s more of a focus on the cultural aspect,” Ben said. “But, if students want to practice their Judaism, they can. Being able to do that is the goal.”
For the future of the group, the two upperclassmen hope to grow the group to the point where it will still function following their graduation.
“I hope to grow the club when Ben graduates, and I want to expand it to more than just services and learning,” Sydney said. “More about the Jewish heritage. I want members, Jewish or not, to learn about what makes Judaism fun.”
Ben said, “The goal is to make a community on campus that can leave campus and find others outside of WRA. We want to make strong relationships with the temples and organizations close to us. We don’t want the club to die out when we leave.”