Jewish Student Union joins Decatur High School

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Jewish Student Union (JSU), the school’s newest club, has its first meeting Sept. 4. The organization, created by seniors Halia Reingold and Sam Cooper, aims to provide a place where Jewish students can meet one another and openly talk about their struggles and non-Jewish students can learn about Judaism.

“I wanted to create JSU after I started teaching at my Sunday school,” Cooper said. “While teaching seventh, eighth and ninth graders, I got really in touch with the ethnic side of my religion and wanted to establish a similar space for other students at DHS.” 

The club plans on hosting volunteer opportunities and celebrations during major Jewish holidays to inform and connect both Jewish and non-Jewish students. Cooper and Reingold also want to use JSU as a way to remind school staff of high holy days, like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah.

Since getting approval from Mr. Hatfield, [Halia and I] have already set up an Instagram page, @decatur_jsu. Each day, we keep gaining more and more followers. Soon, we will be reaching out to Jewish kids we know at the school and printing out flyers and posters to attract interest,” Cooper said (left).

“Something [Halia and I] have known from the beginning is that JSU is going to work as a platform for Jewish students to notify the administration of religious holidays,” Cooper said. “In the past, teachers have planned tests and important class activities on days where Jewish kids could not be in school.”

As a result, absences go unexcused, something that’s made Reingold “more and more angry and frustrated” over time here at DHS. 

“I knew other Jewish kids in our school felt the same way, but there was never anything we could really do about it,” she said. “So, Sam and I came up with the idea of a Jewish Student Union where Jewish kids could meet other people with the same values as them and come up with ways to address some of the issues at our school as one organized group.”

In addition to activities centered around religious holidays, Cooper and Reingold want to increase and encourage community outreach. 

“We really want to incorporate the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam and Mitzvot, or ‘healing the world’ and ‘acts of love and kindness,’ by promoting social justice and participating in activism,” Reingold said. 

The pair also hopes to invite rabbis from synagogues across Atlanta to help JSU members “talk about the difficulties of being a Jewish teenager” and plan additional activities that “uphold Jewish values.” 

Cooper and Reingold started contacting administration in October of last year, eventually receiving the green light this week to start meeting. Due to JSU having religious ties, the school could not financially sponsor the club, and as a result, it must be entirely student run. However, this didn’t deter the two from creating the club.

“Halia and I started searching for teachers who were willing to let us use their class as a meeting space and act as an adult supervisor,” Cooper said. “Eventually, we found Mr. Kessel.” 

Andrew Kessel, a Jewish French teacher here at DHS, now supervises, promotes and offers his classroom as the meeting place for JSU. 

“I was surprised that the club didn’t already exist,” Kessel said, “so I was glad when [Reingold] and [Cooper] contacted me to serve as a liaison to help make it happen and raise awareness about our people.”

For Cooper, what makes JSU a unique organization is the “community it will create” here at Decatur. This community, Cooper hopes, will become a “staple of DHS’s clubs” following his graduation.

“Starting JSU has made me exceptionally happy,” Reingold said. “It’s incredible that [Sam and I] have formed a club and environment to help future Jewish students at DHS and bring people together in an open, inclusive space.”

 

To attend the meeting, go to room 3014 after school Wednesday, Sept. 4.

Photo courtesy of Caroline Putman.

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