When Rabbi Chaim Neiditch rose to the podium to deliver the keynote speech for an Atlanta public high school at the end of May, parents in the mainly Christian South didn’t know what to expect. He was a rabbi after all; they figured perhaps he’d deliver a fire-and-brimstone exhortation or a lecture on a Biblical verse.
Instead, Rabbi Neiditch, executive director and founder of the Jewish Student Unions of Atlanta and the regional director of Greater Atlanta NCSY, delivered a captivating talk on the importance of family and friendship, the Jewish notion of God’s role in everyday life and how we can learn from our failures. Rabbi Neiditch even went so far as to quote Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple.
NCSY is the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union.
The more than 2,000 parents and students from Centennial High School rose to give Rabbi Neiditch a standing ovation.
However, that day parents and students weren’t the only ones in for a surprise. Rabbi Neiditch himself did a proud double-take when he saw the members of his Jewish Student Union marching in to the auditorium with their yarmulkes on their heads, the first time they had done so in public.
“I was blown away,” said Rabbi Neiditch. “I was really proud that they made a statement that they’re Jewish in front of all their friends and teachers. I think it’s a testament to the greatness of these teens and the impact we have on the community.”
Or as graduating senior Bryan Koblitz told him.
“You inspired us, Rabbi,” Koblitz explained. “We were just so proud that you were representing us up there and wanted people to know that Judaism has been a big part of our high school experience and that is all thanks to you and JSU.”
Dedication is a hallmark of the Jewish Student Unions of Atlanta that serve more than 2,000 teens across 17 schools in Atlanta. Jewish Student Unions meet weekly before school begins from 7:15-8:30 a.m., which means many students must leave their house before seven to be a part of the club. Rabbi Neiditch is typically up long before that assembling what he’ll need for the club’s activities which last year included baking challahs, running mock Passover seders and building menorahs.
Rabbi Neiditch has already been asked to deliver next year’s commencement speech.