|Members of Cresskill High School’s Jewish culture club wrap holiday packages for children in Israeli hospitals. The group’s teacher, Rabbi Mendy Korer, is in the center. Club president Jeremy Benhamroun is seated, at right.|
This is a small public school, and the students don’t have much exposure to the Jewish world,” said Cresskill High School student Jeremy Benhamroun, president of the school’s Jewish culture club.
The 17-year-old senior said he is gratified that his club is helping to change that.
Started in 2005 by students Nicole Nagin and Darren Gorman, who have since graduated, the club was the brainchild of Rabbi Chaim Boyarsky, then youth director of Chabad on the Palisades in Tenafly.
“Many of us [in the club] also attend the Teen Friendship Club at the shul,” said Jeremy, adding that the program is now called Teens for the Community. “He [Boyarsky] encouraged those of us in the Wednesday community service program to start Jewish clubs in our school as a mitzvah.”
The Cresskill high school group, which began with seven students, has been growing steadily ever since, said Jeremy, and now boasts about 20 members.
“Non-Jewish kids are welcome to attend,” he said, explaining that the purpose of the club is to teach something about Jewish culture and customs. “They come in every once in a while.”
He noted also that the club’s teacher, the black-clad and bearded Rabbi Mendy Korer, new “teen rabbi” at Chabad on the Palisades – who comes in once a month during lunch, bringing kosher pizza and program ideas with him – inevitably attracts stares, particularly from non-Jewish students.
“He’s cool, though,” said Jeremy, “and he’s able to speak the lingo.”
“Most of the students in Cresskill have never seen a rabbi before, but we don’t mind shocking our peers in the name of putting ourselves out there to spread knowledge of our Jewish values and traditions,” said the club president.
Jeremy explained that when a culture club meeting precedes a holiday, the club’s project is likely to be holiday-related. This month, for example, the students made menorahs from kits provided by Korer and filled Chanukah gift packages for children in Israeli hospitals. Club members signed get-well cards and decorated baskets that they filled with candy and toys supplied by Chabad. When there’s no upcoming holiday, students participate in a Jewish-themed craft or community activity.
Helping to encourage the formation of school clubs would appear to be part of the mission of Lubavitch on the Palisades, which has a sign-up form on its Website together with a message for teens: “You’re walking down the halls in school. It’s December time and you can’t really deny it because you see a teacher walking by with a Santa Claus hat on and you can hear ‘Jingle Bells’ on the loudspeaker. The Christian Club, the Muslim Club, the Oriental Club, the Korean Club … they’re all doing their thing, and you wonder, ‘What about me? Where do I fit in?'”
But in starting a club, says the site, it’s “goodbye, bleachers. You’re not just the audience anymore. It’s time to play, and we’re giving you the ball.”
“The point of our club is to [provide] knowledge of Jewish culture and traditions in a secular setting to all who wish to learn,” said Jeremy, calling it a “hands-on” experience. Members are “mixed,” he said. Some are active in shuls and some are not. “It’s strictly secular,” he added. “We don’t preach.”
There are similar clubs at Northern Valley High School in Old Tappan and Tenafly High School.
Jeremy said he likes bringing Jewish culture to his school.
“It’s an opportunity to learn about our Jewish heritage,” he said. “It’s growing with every meeting. People get curious when they see the rabbi, and they seem to enjoy it.”