What Jewish Community Means To Me: 12th Grade Student Jacob Josell at Religious School Graduation

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This post on “If Not Now, When?” the interactive blog of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, are the remarks of Fairmount Temple 12th grade student, Jacob Josell, shared at the graduation service from our Fairmount Temple Religious School on Monday, May 4, 2015. We encourage you to comment below, or to share post on social media to continue the conversation Jacob starts in this teaching at services. Jacob is the 12th grade winner of the Rabbi Barnett Brickner Award for the Religious School in 2015.

Before my experience here I always felt a bit left out of Judaism. To be blunt, I still never felt truly connected. I never really understood what it would mean to be connected to Judaism.

When I was younger, yes I would go to High Holy Day services and parent child class and even to middle school class on Monday nights, but, going to Mayfield, a school where the Jewish population is not as strong as in some of the other schools around the Cleveland area made it difficult to connect in a passionate way. Mayfield has very few Jews that I know and am friends with. Also, of the Jews that I do know, there is not that high level of commitment towards Judaism that would have made it easy for me to also have a commitment of that caliber.

That all changed during the middle to end of my sophomore year. When I was told I would be giving a speech during graduation there was one idea or story that I absolutely had to talk about. I think it defines our class as a whole as well as my experience. The story I am referring to is the connection our class made with each other while in New York City together. Going in to that trip, there were many different groups of friends who all generally kept to themselves. Jake and I were friends from parents child. There was the big Shaker Crew and Even in that big group there were a few different divides. Anyways, I think the point has been made that we were not a collective and cohesive unit. In New York, everything changed. Whether it was through sharing knowledge on similar classes people were in or the fact that we were all pushed closer to each other and forced to spend more time with one another than just the one night a week for an hour and a half.

We all realized that our group was full of intelligent, fun, and caring people. To this day I remain extremely close with many people from that trip and I will testify that I have never made as many close friends in such a short period of time at any other point in my life. Now since that trip, I know that I looked forward to and was excited about every Monday night. That is something special in my opinion because in all honesty, who likes Monday nights? Not many because for many people Mondays are the most dreaded day of the week. I think this is a testament to our class as a whole.

Some people will say that we all came back here each year to see each other and not to learn . However, I disagree. If this were the case we all could have stopped coming to religious school after sophomore year and met up once a week and had dinner together. This was not the case though as we all continued to go to Monday night school in part to see each other, but also to learn. we were able to learn from each other on many difficult topics. One such topic is God. Not everyone believes in God and everyone has a different view on God. However, whatever the view we were all respectful of one another and even were able to use each other’s opinions to change or adapt our own opinion. We were constantly learning new things from and about each other. The everlasting pursuit of knowledge is something that I believe those in our class have as does the Jewish population as a whole.

That is not to say we did not get off topic during many of the classes here because we did. Just about every day in every class. However, the majority of the time it was the class as a whole bringing new conversations to light or new ideas into the planned conversations.

While talking to Rabbi Nosanchuk, I learned that he also noticed this trend. Every week, our teacher would come in with a lesson plan and think, at this point we will turn to this topic, and then I will introduce this idea at this point and so on and so forth. Every single week that lesson plan had the potential to be shattered as new insightful and engaging conversations took place in a free flowing cascade of information where every member of our class was just as involved as the next.

The amount of new information I learned every week from my peers on topics that I knew very little to none about was incredible. One such example is when I learned that the prime minister of Israel came to speak in Washington a few months ago. During a discussion on Monday night I found out I had been living under a rock for the past week. However, what is awe  inspiring is how much I learned from them on topics that I believed I had already known much about. I have been studying the Holocaust, whether in school at Mayfield or here at Temple for years on end. Yet, every time a discussion sparks up in class here I swear I learn something that I never knew. Part of the reason, in my opinion, that new information is brought to light to me may be due to the new perspective i hear it from.

At Mayfield, there is very little Jewish presence. Hearing stories or information at Mayfield allows me to hear one side of it, but when I come here I am able to listen to different ideas about the same or similar topics. The main point that I would like to make is that I feel so honored to be part of a community of people who live to teach, learn and share ideas with each other. I think this idea is the true definition of the Jewish community.

Winston Churchill said, “Some people like the Jews, and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and remarkable race which has appeared in the world.” This is a non-Jew talking about us during a time when the Jews were the most persecuted people in the world. What do you think that means?… Our race has been beaten, battered, enslaved and killed and yet despite all the odds being stacked against us, we have managed to survive. We manage to still tell the stories of our ancestors at Passover. We manage to continue to teach of the horrors that happened during World War II.  We never forget what has happened, but we are always moving forward. This is Jewish community. The eternal craving of learning. This lust is something envied by so many other cultures and this is the reason we have managed to survive.

I encourage everyone in my class along with all of you here today to continue this trend and establish that continuous lifelong learning to maintain the Jewish population as one of the most formidable people there is.