Boys lead Mishmar on their own

Eric Bazak, Staff Writer

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On Thursdays, if the Beit Midrash is packed with boys sitting around a table and learning a Gemara, assume Mishmar is in session. A long established if somewhat off-and-on school tradition, the afterschool learning group is normally taught by the Judaic Studies teachers, who use it as a chance to both teach their students and bond with them in a less formal setting than class.

This year’s second Mishmar, however, was completely run by students. On Oct. 17, juniors Mati Hurwitz and Adam Kaufler along with sophomores Jacob Dauer and Micah Gill assumed leadership after hearing that none of their teachers had time to prepare a shiur for that week. Rabbi Segal had a meeting, Rabbi Stein was busy with the freshman retreat, and Rabbi Schwartzberg was out of town.

Sensing students’ disappointment, Rabbi Stein suggested they run it themselves.  They agreed right away.

The students spend less than a day researching their selected topic: demons. They learned several Gemaras about the subject, and taught it to a group of nearly 30 boys who stayed for Mishmar.

“We didn’t have a rabbi speaker so we thought it would be a great idea if us four kids plan it ourselves and do something everyone can relate too,” said Jacob Dauer. “I think it’s very important that high school boys don’t just learn for grades, but for l’shem shamaim” – in other words, for its own sake (literally for the sake of heaven)

Mishmar has held at Shalhevet for years, a mostly weekly hour-long session where Rabbis and other Judaic Studies faculty aim to teach and bond with their students. Every session addresses a new, arbitrary topic revolving Judaism; there’s no set curriculum, not even the weekly parsha.

On whatever the subject is, students learn several Gemaras and rabbinic opinions, followed by a meal, traditionally sponsored by the rabbis.

On Oct. 17, Jewish History teacher Mr. Jason Feld, Principal Reb Noam Weissman and Rabbi David Stein were in attendance. But all they did was observe what the students had prepared.

The presentation began with everyone in one big group, and the four leaders switched off reading lines of the Gemara touching on demons. Then they divided into two groups, each learning three different opinions about it. The four had less than 24 hours to prepare, according to Rabbi Stein, who had sent them an e-mail a day earlier suggesting the plan.

“For me the best thing about it was the example that our students can have in the role in producing Torah,” Rabbi Stein said, “an example that students are passionate, capable, and have the leadership ability to teach Torah to all of us.”

The learning was capped off with a meal of chicken poppers, chips, and beverages, sponsored by Hebrew teacher Shlomit Abrams in honor of her brother’s yahrzeit.

Meanwhile, junior Sigal Spitzer created the first-ever Girls Mishmar this year, with lessons that are very similar to the guys’. Approximately 20 girls attend the sessions.

The rabbis hopes to have Thursdays rotate between boys’ and girls’ Mishmar, and some students do, too.

“I think that Judaic learning at school can often drift into a battle for grades and Mishmar really allows students to learn for the sake of learning,” said Adam Kaufler. “The somewhat absence of it last year really motivated me to step up and be a part of running it. “

For Reb Noam, it was a sign of the school’s success.

“It was one of the proudest I have ever felt, it’s unbelievable about what these students are able to do,” Mr. Weismann said.  “When you see the students taking leadership on the study of Torah and that their peers are respecting that, even though it is only their friend speaking and not their Rabbi, I have never seen such a thing.”

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