Jewish Student Union strives to create a welcoming community


Debra Klevens

After the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh Saturday morning, Jewish Student Union member seniors Lexie Bratton and Derek Isle discuss their emotions with Rabbi Yitzchak Staum. Students shared their disbelief for the fact that antisemitism still exists in 2018. “We can respond with kindness to the hate by educating others,” Bratton said. “The majority of hate stems from lack of knowledge, and through JSU and other programs we hope to educate our peers to stop the hate.”

With goals to create a safe place for students of all different religions and cultural backgrounds, the Jewish Student Union (JSU) was started this year.

The formation of JSU was initially implemented by senior Lexi Bratton, following growth in her own faith over the summer.

I went to Israel this summer with a youth group and got very involved in my faith. After seeing what a difference Judaism made in my life, I wanted to educate my peers about my faith,” Bratton said. “I talked to my Rabbi this summer about getting involved in my community. He told me to start by joining my school’s JSU. I realized quickly that West did not have a JSU chapter.”

Bratton took this realization to senior Jessica Goedeke and science teacher Amy Cohen, who is one of Bratton’s teachers and is also Jewish, to begin creation of a JSU chapter.

“Once we got approved, we quickly made some fun posters and started telling friends to come through word of mouth,” Bratton said. “We hope to have our numbers grow exponentially since this club is not exclusive and gives out free food, we hope students have no reason not to come.”

JSU meetings will consist of teaching about Judaism in interactive ways and making opportunities available for students.

“Our plans are to offer knowledge about the religion and do some activities that will be fun but educational. [There will be] discussions and activities that represent certain holidays or traditions” Goedeke said. “There have been event opportunities offered [by] Rabbi Staum. For example, there is a gala coming up and opportunities to go to Israel.”

The priority of JSU is to create an environment for all students to feel comfortable and learn.

“Anyone [is welcome] who has questions about Judaism, whether it’s about religion or culture, religion, history, food or holidays. “It’s just kind of like a non-judgmental very casual open space for people to ask questions and have conversations,” Cohen said.

Cohen has quickly recognized the impact of open conversation on students.

Already, students have come who are not Jewish, but have questions and want to learn more about this religion, this history, how things intertwine and how there are a lot of similarities between other Abrahamic faiths of Christianity and Islam,” Cohen said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for students to learn about things they otherwise might not be familiar with.”

Some aspects of JSU, such as events and involvement within the international organization, are still in the works as the club begins to grow. However, the ultimate goal of JSU is to reach out to all interested students over the course of the year.

“My hope is that with the free pizza offered and the fun activities we can get even just one student to come who knows next to nothing about Judaism to help them learn what Judaism really is,” Bratton said.