Cultivating cultural awareness: Jewish Student Union presents to students about Rosh Hashanah

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Photo credit: Audrey Chang

Jewish Student Union Board members and co-adviser Talia Geffen speak to middle school students about Rosh Hashanah. JSU members presented Sept. 22 and discussed different ways people celebrate the holiday.

By Audrey Chang, News Editor

Attending services, visiting family and enjoying festive meals are all celebratory activities for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah took place Sept. 26.

Middle school students heard from the Jewish Student Union about Rosh Hashanah Thursday, Sept. 22, during their Culture and Community FLX Block in the student center. Upper school students also listened to JSU’s presentation Friday, Sept. 23, in the dining hall.

Rosh Hashanah begins on the first two days of Tishrei, the first month of the Jewish calendar, which lands during September or October. Temples and synagogues always have services, but many people also celebrate with specific family traditions or by making celebratory meals. Traditional Jewish foods that are usually served on the first night of Rosh Hashanah include rounded challah, apples dipped in honey and matzo ball soup.

Junior Lilly Dembo is the current leader of JSU, and she said she wanted students to learn about what Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are and the various ways people celebrate them.

“We’re planning on including how different people celebrate Rosh Hashanah, and we’re also going to talk a little bit about Yom Kippur — it comes right after Rosh Hashanah — and just the ways to celebrate and what some people do and the foods you eat,” Dembo said in an interview prior to the presentation. “And [it’s important] to know about how one of your friends may be going to services, another one may not be or visiting with their family — so there’s just a lot of ways to celebrate, and we want to just acknowledging that fact.” 

World language teacher Talia Geffen is one of the co-advisers of JSU, and she said they aim to provide the Archer community with knowledge and awareness of parts of Jewish culture and traditions.

There is no one way or right way to be Jewish, and there’s really a diversity of experiences and traditions of ways people can act religiously or ways people celebrate. ”

— Talia Geffen, World language teacher and JSU co-adviser

“We really wanted to make sure that every student Archer has some cultural knowledge and competency and awareness around these important Jewish holidays and why we have school off,” Geffen said. “They can come out of Archer with this knowledge but also an increased sensitivity and more awareness of how their classmates who are Jewish celebrate.”

Aligned with this goal, seventh grader Asha Perry said she resonated with the points about how different people celebrate Rosh Hashanah and the significance of the holiday.

“I learned how important Jewish holidays are for a lot of people,” Perry said. “I thought it was really interesting to get to learn new things [about Rosh Hashanah] because I don’t celebrate Jewish holidays.” 

Dembo celebrates Rosh Hashanah by going to services, and she said it was important to her to emphasize the diversity of Rosh Hashanah celebrations and that there is not a singular or right way to celebrate.

“We’re hoping people gain more knowledge and understanding for what [Rosh Hashanah] is — knowing why there’s school off because so many people are celebrating this holiday,” Dembo said. “Everyone’s celebrating differently — there’s no right way to be Jewish on this holiday.” 

Geffen said that she usually celebrates Rosh Hashanah by going to services at temple and spending time and eating meals with her family. At the end of the presentation, JSU members asked the audience for takeaways from the presentation, and Geffen said it was rewarding to see how much they learned about the holiday and Jewish culture.

“A big, core role of the club is to share different types of traditions and experiences, both with the religious aspect and more heavily tending towards the cultural side of things,” Geffen said. “[The goal is] to make everyone feel welcome and to develop everybody’s experience.”