Led by five student heads–Lexi Z. ‘24, Cameron G. ‘24, Molly M. ‘24, Ava P. ‘26 and Drew S. ‘24–the Jewish Student Association (JSA) is dedicated to providing a safe space for learning, growth and discussion.
Sitting down for an in-person roundtable earlier this fall, the student heads were excited to share the mission behind their club and their positive outlook for continued growth in the future.
For many of the heads, transitioning from a Jewish day school to Garrison Forest inspired them to maintain their connection to their Jewish roots. “Right away, when I saw JSA was a club, I wanted to join. Everyone was super welcoming and I knew that, for me, after leaving a Jewish day school, I wanted to be a part of a community and a safe space where we could talk about Judaism,” said Lexi.
For Molly, whose sister, Emily Millman ‘22, was also a head of the JSA, her “why” includes broadening general awareness about the Jewish community.
Drew, who initially felt a bit overwhelmed by the transition to Upper School, found comfort in joining a community that spanned multiple grades and welcomed her with open arms. Throughout her Upper School journey, she became more involved in Jewish activities outside of school and, in turn, was excited to share what she learned with the GFS community.
“There’s so much antisemitism going on in the world that in our small school, in our small club, if we can help one person just understand a little bit more, then it’s making a bigger impact than we could think.” - Lexi Z. '24
Education and Connection
For all of the heads, JSA has become a place for open dialogue, education, understanding and traditions. Cameron said, “I think it’s really meaningful, with everything that’s going on right now, to be able to gather in a small group and talk about it. Because we can all feel the same things, which helps us feel connected.”
They hope their efforts will contribute to a more inclusive world. Ava explained, “I think it’s really important to teach other people about Judaism because there’s a lot of antisemitism in the world, and I think that comes from a place of people not knowing [a lot about Judaism]. So being able to talk to other Jewish people, hear everyone’s different opinions and then teach those kinds of things to non-Jewish people could help make the world a more inclusive place.”
Lexi agreed, “We’re doing anything we can to just teach people and educate them. Earlier in the fall, we did a presentation on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and then we gave out apples and honey to teach people about Jewish traditions. I would say this year more than ever, it’s important for us to have a safe space where we can all go and support each other and talk. I went to a Jewish Day School and I didn’t want to lose my roots. Some of our friends who are Jewish have never experienced that, so educating people whether they’re Jewish or just members of the GFS community about all of the holidays and sharing our knowledge is important.”
Another tradition the JSA has brought to GFS is building a Sukkah in honor of the Jewish holiday, Sukkot. Through the building and decoration of the Sukkah, the JSA invited all GFS community members to take part in the holiday and learn more about its significance to the Jewish community.
Vision for the Future
Looking to the future, the group hopes to see the club continue to grow as it has over the past few years. From 2022 to 2023, the JSA has doubled its membership and has seen an increase in engagement from both Jewish and non-Jewish community members. Ava elaborated, “I want as many people as possible to be present and connected because we have some people who are super observant, some who aren’t and everything in between. To have everybody connected and participating, that’s beneficial for all of us.”
Aside from student engagement, the heads have seen an increase in faculty interest as well. Lexi explained, “Along with that, having a lot of support from teachers who are Jewish or aren’t Jewish but want to learn and support us has been really nice.” Their faculty advisor, Joan Brown, has made a particularly positive impact, helping guide student heads over a number of years and advocating for them outside of JSA.
The JSA also looks forward to continuing its partnership with the Jewish Student Union, an organization that helps create welcoming and vibrant Jewish communities for teens to learn and connect with each other, explore Jewish culture and history, and discover opportunities for deeper engagement, which has provided a staff representative, Mordi, to work closely with the student heads and help facilitate club meetings, share more about the Jewish faith and provide fun new ways to engage with Judaism.
Lastly, the group looks to expand its offerings of Jewish activities beyond the JSA. Each Monday night, the student heads gather at Starbucks for Lattes and Learning, an event open to all Jewish teens in the Pikesville area to enjoy coffee and experience community. Lexi said, “We try to connect our experience at JSA to our Judaism outside of school. We hope that what people learn here they can continue at home.”
To close our discussion, Lexi finished with this thought, “There’s so much antisemitism going on in the world that in our small school, in our small club, if we can help one person just understand a little bit more, then it’s making a bigger impact than we could think.”