Throughout the Hebrew month of Elul, shofars are being blown in synagogues all over the world. For Jews, the month of Elul is the dawning of the New Year and the beginning of a period of introspection. Elul and the shofar are a call to action and a time for spiritual and emotional growth. In the words of the Rambam, the shofar calls out, “awaken you sleepers from your (spiritual) slumber.”
Meanwhile, all over the country, alarm clocks are ringing, and students are (enthusiastically or reluctantly) bounding out of bed for their first day of school.
It’s the beginning of the Student to Student (STS) new year, as well, and an exciting and busy time for our coordinators and Jewish teen participants, who are also called to action, and they effectively do so, countering antisemitism by bringing their authentic selves to presentations in schools that have no Jewish presence.
This year we have continued to grow and are now in 19 communities around the country. We welcome our newest additions—Allentown, Howard County, New York City, Omaha, Sacramento, Schenectady, and Tulsa! These new locations add to our already strong network of communities—Boston, Bloomington IN, Buffalo,Charlotte, Chicago, Des Moines, Detroit, Indianapolis, Nashville, Orange County CA, St. Louis, and Washington DC.
This month and next, STS coordinators are engaged in recruiting participants, scheduling presentations, creating presentation groups, printing and assembling training materials, and preparing for their orientation meetings where they will train participants. Our dedicated coordinators work so diligently to ensure the success of their programs.
In their presentations, STS participants will talk about their lives as Jewish teens and, in doing so, they will demystify and put a human face to Judaism. They will bring lots of ritual items to their presentations, including miniature Torah scrolls, kippot, tallitot, siddurs, Shabbat candles and candlesticks, havdalah sets, and even challah and kosher cookies like Oreos to pass around to the students. By sharing their personal stories and feelings, our teens create connections with classroom students, many of whom have never had contact with Jewish people. All kinds of questions will be asked of our participants, from “Do Jews celebrate birthdays?” to “What do you think about the Afterlife?” to “Which stereotypes about Jews are true?” During their orientation meetings they will explore ways to answer the more challenging questions.
Besides public speaking skills, STS participants will develop leadership skills they will carry with them into the next chapters of their lives. Participating in Student to Student helps our teens strengthen their Jewish identities as they consider and articulate their thoughts and feelings about themselves and their Judaism. Since each group of presenting participants has representatives from the major branches of Judaism, STS offers a rare opportunity for our young people to hear from Jewish peers with whom they don’t necessarily regularly interact. Stereotypes they may bring with them about the other branches are often shattered during their presentations.
As the sound of the shofar is heard in synagogues (and even in classrooms where our participants are presenting!) during this month of Elul, we hope its notes usher in a healthy, happy, and impactful New Year for our coordinators, our teens, and the Jewish people.
For more information about Student to Student and to see a map of our STS communities, visit our website: www.bethenarrative.org.