We’ve got that summertime Jew-ness

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By Rina Katzovitz, Staff Writer

The crash of waves against the sand and rock music blasting from speakers at a party are not the only sounds of summer for a Shalhevet student. Many students over the summer hear the raucous Shabbos songs of summer camp, or the lecturing of a Rebbi. Many become more personally connected with Judaism in ways that they aren’t able to at school.

This past summer, more than 30 Shalhevet students went to Israel, either on programs or with their families, and in spite of the war that raged there for 50 days. At school we can take pride in showing our solidarity with Israel, but in the summer we can to go and express it.

Other students become closer to Judaism in more subtle ways, because they venture out into the world where they begin to face choices and challenges. For example, this summer I took a cooking class at a culinary academy. I made citrus soufflés, bleu cheese crostinis, seared miso chicken and various other gourmet dishes.

At the end of every class I was faced with a dilemma: chow down with the rest of the students or watch as my peers consumed the delicacies I labored to create. Each day I made the same choice, to abstain from eating. The academy I studied at was not kosher. All the pans, ramekins and serving dishes once had held prosciutto or some other food prohibited by Jewish law. All the utensils we used to prepare the food were treif.

So again and again, I decided to not eat any of the food I created – a choice that I do not face at home, in my neighborhood or at Shalhevet. Other students made similar choices throughout the summer — to wake up early to pray in the morning, to keep Shabbat though their family doesn’t, to attend a pro-Israel demonstration, or say tehillim (psalms) once a week for the soldiers fighting in the war.

This summer even watching the news was a way for student to connect. We saw the war through a Jewish lens.  Many of us knew people injured while fighting, and all of us knew people from the community that were part of the war effort.

So though most students didn’t go to Jewish programs, they connected to Judaism in their own unique way. Some students worked as counselors and advisors at Jewish summer camps. Teaching kids Jewish songs and laws gives students a whole new perspective on their meaning and importance.

Senior Max Helfand said “seeing the process from an outside perspective gave me a unique appreciation for when I get to partake in religious activities and daven myself.”

Then there were those who took classes – two girls attended a five-week seminar on Jewish Law in New York, and senior Margo Feuer went to a specialized Jewish program at Yale. Margo said she was “able to connect with issues, form my own opinions, and then debate them with others who cared about them as well.” The program also gave her the chance to study with great Jewish scholars like Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, and – as she put it —  “peers as interested as I am in the Jewish future.”

Shalhevet students connect with their faith over the summer in a way that they don’t have time to do over the course of the school year. They have time to check the Israeli newspapers, say psalms and mentor Jewish youth — and abstain from eating prosciutto-laden quiches.

It gives a whole new meaning to the term religious freedom.