MAKING JUDAISM RELEVANT AND COOL FOR TEENS: JEWISH STUDENT UNION CLUBS ARRIVE IN DENVER PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOLS
(From left to right) Rabbi Michael Sunshine, his wife Ariella, and his three sons Akiva, Matanel, and Yehuda, are newcomers in Denver as JSU takes flight.
The Jewish Student Union has come to Denver, and that can only be welcome news to Jewish teens in local public high schools.
Thanks to support from the Rose Community Foundation for four years, the Glassman Foundation for one year (committed renewable), and a local Jewish leader, the popular clubs that link teens to their Jewish heritage – and in many cases is their only link – are opening in as many as five area high schools.
JSU was established in Los Angeles in 2002. Incorporated as a 501©(3) educational organization, it has grown to include clubs in 220 public high schools in 27 states and Canadian provinces serving more than 9,100 students. Now, it has arrived in Denver.
According to Susan Wachsstock, the National Director of Jewish Student Union, “JSU Denver is the latest example of the organization’s new proactive focus on bringing its services to new areas with a concentrated population of Jewish teens in public high schools.”
The Rose Community Foundation of Denver approached JSU officials who found a partner in the Glassman Foundation of Denver and the local lay leader
Mrs. Wachsstock declared, “Jewish Student Union seeks to enhance teens’ Jewish identity, nurture a connection to the State of Israel, inspire an enduring relationship with the Jewish people and provide for a deeper involvement with the Jewish community through programming that appeals to teens’ interests and sensibilities.” Club meetings, which feature pizza lunches for the students, are led by what Mrs. Wachsstock calls “JSU educator-advisors who themselves represent the diversity of the Jewish world, and make Judaism relevant and cool for teens.”
The JSU Denver Director brought on board for the Denver clubs is Rabbi Michael Sunshine, known as Mikey. A native of Phoenix and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, he lived in Denver in the late 1990’s and worked at the Denver Academy of Torah with children with special needs.
Rabbi Sunshine has already arrived in Denver from San Antonio, where he was assistant rabbi at Congregation Rodfei Sholom. A fan of sports and the outdoors, he is looking forward to hiking in the mountains. Rabbi Sunshine and his wife, Ariella, have three young boys.
Rabbi Sunshine is currently working with clubs at George Washington, Cherry Creek, and East High, and is working to open up two more clubs in the Denver area in the near future.
“The programs of JSU work to deepen Jewish teens’ connection with our rich heritage,” Rabbi Sunshine said. “An actively Jewish life is relevant to the modern world. While a component of JSU is to connect Jewish teens in each school and throughout Denver with the rest of the United States, the programming has many avenues. JSU clubs bring in professionals to speak about Jewish ethics in the workplace, the Holocaust, modern Israel and its continual involvement in agricultural and technological advancement, and many other subjects. Some clubs organize school-wide Holocaust Remembrance Days. The clubs can also run social action programming on campus, like clothing drives and relief efforts.”
“An active Jewish life pronounces itself in so many different avenues,” Rabbi Sunshine added. “You never know what each person connects to, and so it’s important to make teens familiar with the spectrum of Jewish life.”
Rabbi Sunshine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-818-9512.