Thirty-three high school students crammed into a small classroom at the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center in Scottsdale on Tuesday, Aug. 20 for an opening night program about Hebrew High.
Bureau of Jewish Education Executive Director and Hebrew High Principal Myra Shindler eagerly welcomed both new and returning students. For the new students, this was an introduction to what Hebrew High is and what it has to offer, as well as a chance to get acquainted with other classmates. For returning students, it was an opportunity to catch up and share some ice cream at the end of the night.
“I want to talk about how what you learn in high school carries on into your adult life. And how your Jewish values become a part of who you are,” Shindler said. “At Hebrew High, no one is turned away due to lack of ability to pay.”
Hebrew High aims to bring together Jewish students from across the valley to socialize and learn about their faith. By doing so, the hope is to strengthen the sense of community for Jews in the Valley.
In addition to learning Hebrew — which can be credited for both high school and college — Hebrew High offers an array of educational classes and religious studies, including the history of the Jewish faith and people, Krav Maga, Holocaust studies, comparative religions and more.
Hebrew High and the other programs offered by the BJE have played a prominent role for many over the past 25 years. Some alumni even return to volunteer and teach at Hebrew High.
Sitting at tables near the front of the room were panelists Jordan Mishlove, development associate at AIPAC; Erin Scharff, associate professor at Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law; Ari Simones, child welfare investigative assistant manager at Arizona’s office of Child Welfare Investigations, Elise Herman, attorney; and Doran Arik Miller, principal at Miller Policy Consulting.
Each panelist had a different story about the role Hebrew High played in their lives. For some, the most important takeaway was the sense of belonging and community and the relationships formed while discovering their Jewish identity.
“It’s the memories, in retrospect, and the people you meet that leave the biggest impact,” Scharff said. “It’s a gift you give yourselves.”
“To me, the important part of Hebrew High is, as we started to mention, it’s the relationships. It’s cementing an identity — a Jewish identity — that has been building from the time that you’re young,” Miller said. “By the time you enter high school, you are focused on who you are, what is your identity moving forward. By going to Hebrew High, you are cementing relationships that do become lifelong relationships, and you’re cementing your Jewish identity.”
Each panelist said Hebrew High helped them better connect with their faith because of the education and immersion provided.
“Back then, I didn’t really think about my faith,” Simones said. “Hebrew High is what got me through the complicated issues in my life — struggles I faced with my faith and coming to terms with my religious identity.” He credits Hebrew High for helping him rediscover his faith and its significance in his life.
For Mishlove, Hebrew High had a greater impact beyond faith.
“I actually wrote my college essay based off of Care-A-Van,” he said. “It’s the things you do here that make the difference.”JN