Introduction by Sally Jo Bronner
The high school graduates of 2020 have missed out on milestones and rites of passage teenagers look forward to in their senior year due to the public health crisis. SABABA graduates, however, also missed out on participating in the March of the Living, a learning experience in Poland and Israel that was canceled for the first time in its 30-year history.
Some teens had been preparing all year for the program. But along with this and other disappointments, there is also tremendous hope that they are going to change the world. It has been my pleasure to know them, guide them, and inspire them. I am truly lucky to witness their growth and see what mensches they are becoming. Here they are in their own words, responding to my request for them to share about their Jewish identity, SABABA, and current events.
My name is Max Astrachan. Both of my parents are Jewish and have raised me to be proud of my identity. I have always been active in my temples -- Temple Sinai in Sharon, Massachusetts and at Temple Ohev Sholom in Harrisburg. I have attended religious school throughout my life. For my bar mitzvah project, I collected and shipped thousands of books for a new school library in Ghana, in collaboration with the African Library Project. For my Confirmation class with Rabbi Kessler, I lobbied in Washington, D.C. with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. I have attended Sababa (formerly Hebrew High) for the past four years and volunteered at the Jewish Home with my social action class. This past year, I also taught a Sababa class with Rabbi Kessler, titled Jews in the Civil Rights Movement.
I enjoy being active in the Jewish community of Harrisburg. I was a junior camp counselor for the JCC for two years and a senior camp counselor for another year. I provided a positive role model for campers, and organized activities designed to help them build relationships and learn new skills. In 2019, I was awarded ‘Counselor of the Year’.
I have been a B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO) member for five years, and was awarded ‘BBYO Member of the Year’ in 2019. I served on my BBYO chapter board as the Aleph Mazkir, helping to organize activities and increased membership through marketing and social media campaigns.
I am close to my Temple family and visited Israel with them, which deepened my connection to our homeland. I have also traveled to Rome and Venice and visited the Jewish ghettos and synagogues throughout Italy. My identity has given me unique insights, an open heart and mind, and a desire to learn from and teach others about different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
My upbringing emphasized tzedakah and tikkun olam, but I was inspired to take action based on 2 experiences. First, at BBYO’s International Conventions, I was motivated to fight for others’ liberties after interacting with prominent change agents including: Jonathan Greenblatt (CEO, ADL), Mike Signer (Charlottesville Mayor during Neo-Nazi attacks), Abby Wambach (Olympic Gold Medalist/LGBTQ+ Rights Activist), and Samantha Fuentes (Parkland Survivor). Second, reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas challenged me to think critically about the degree of force used by police officers and become actively involved in fighting for a cause. The narrative demonstrates that community members must actively work on solutions to prevent injustice.
Therefore, when I was a sophomore at Cumberland Valley High School, I helped organize our first SPIRIT (Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together) forum, a U.S. Department of Justice initiative to reduce community racial tension and violence. Following the forum, I was elected to lead our first SPIRIT Diversity Council. It serves to advise our school administration and educate faculty and students in order to improve our current school climate and prepare students for success in our diverse world. I am also active in the National Honor Society, Student Council, Key Club, Future Business Leaders of America, and the Varsity Baseball team.
I also have a passion for business, as I created and own Heat 717, a company that sells high-demand streetwear. I design sales promotions and am proud to report that my company is growing. My profits enable me to sponsor local events and donate a portion of my sales to community causes such as the Jordan Hill Foundation, which helps raise diabetes prevention awareness and provides kidney disease research funding. I also raise funds for CV Mini-Thon to combat pediatric cancer. Recently we have conducted a fundraiser to benefit the Central PA Food Bank to help those who do not always have access to nutritious meals.
This fall, I will be studying business at Stern Business School at NYU. In college and beyond, I will continue to be active within my Jewish community by helping and caring for others, and promoting social justice.
Needless to say, being in the graduating class of 2020 has been difficult. We were born during the aftermath of 9/11 and we are graduating high school during a global pandemic.
However, having such negative events overshadowing our lives is not the way we should be recognized. We should not be defined by 18 years of conflict and tragedy. People tend to forget that those in our generation have grown up alongside easily accessed revolutionary technology, like smartphones and hands-free Bluetooth devices. We have seen societal and political progress, like the first black President serving during our school years. There is no reason that we can't combine the hardships that we have faced in our lives with these great foundations that have made our world a better place in order to spark true change and advancement.
Without a doubt, our generation is the one that is most "in the know." With such easy access to information, such as the media and the internet, the knowledge that people in my generation have been able to gain can only serve to make society better.
Adding a more personal touch, I would like to highlight how these events and my Jewish identity have inspired me. The surges in anti-Semitic acts in the last couple of years have caused me to think, "How can I, a young Jewish person who cares greatly for both my religion and my country, ensure that I can be okay with and proud of who I am? And how can I help other like-minded people do the same?" Although I may not have a definitive answer yet, I firmly believe my past experiences in BBYO and SABABA, alongside my understanding of the world I live in, will contribute greatly to helping me to create change.
In the Fall, I will be attending the University of Miami, a heavily Jewish institution. I feel that with the strong sense of community that is there, I can use my life experiences to work on making the world a better place. Teaching people that it is okay to be different will slow ignorance and hatred. Understanding and positivity go a long way. Speaking of which, in my intended major, understanding and teaching people is key. I believe that by spreading knowledge and positivity to people, helping them in any way that I can, and helping them feel comfortable with who they are is a great first step.
In conclusion, the class of 2020 should be the graduating class that is never forgotten. Not because of the darkness surrounding it, but for the potential that it has to make a difference in our world.
Every Sunday, since I was in pre-K, I have attended religious school. Over the years, I have learned not only about Judaism, but what it means to be Jewish. To me, being Jewish means you are compassionate for others, willing to stand up for somebody or something, strong on the inside and out, and loving and caring to family and friends.
The Jewish Community has given me the opportunity to connect and become friends with my Jewish peers. I am so grateful to have been able to continue my Jewish education, throughout high school, at SABABA. Right now the world has become a somewhat scary place. We are faced with a pandemic, racial discrimination, police brutality, LGBTQ+ and gender inequality, and more. As Jewish people we can continue to take control and stand against discrimination. I will be attending Bryn Mawr College in the fall to continue my academic and soccer career. I plan to major in architecture, following in my grandparents footsteps. I will stay in touch with Judaism by joining my school’s Hillel and going on Birthright. I will also continue to advocate for those who cannot.
Hello Everyone, my name is Ilana. I have been part of SABABA since eighth grade, which I began immediately after my bat mitzvah year.
At first, the thought of continuing my Hebrew education seemed intimidating, however after some gentle prodding (from my parents), I ultimately decided to give it a try. I ended up really enjoying myself through all my years of SABABA.
One thing I thought was really neat and different than Hebrew school was the fact that all the Temples were combined together which allowed me to spend some additional time with friends I had made throughout my years in BBYO and Rosh Chodesh. Many of these friends did not belong to my synagogue and live far away from me (across the river), thus my SABABA Sundays were a means to keep in touch throughout High School.
Skip forward a couple years and I was fortunate enough to earn my confirmation. This was important to my family and me because I was the first person on both of my parents' side of their families to get confirmed. My confirmation was also one of the last big “life events” that my Boby was able to experience before she passed away. The last couple years of Sababa went by pretty fast. The classes throughout my years of SABABA were very interesting and educational yet still had a modern twist to make them enjoyable.
2020 has been a whirlwind for everyone and especially those of us who are graduating seniors. Experiencing a pandemic has taught me so much including the lesson to not take things for granted. My passion outside of school is swimming and I was lucky enough to finish most of my swim season prior to the onset of COVID-19. I know many of my peers were not as fortunate as they had their “last high school event/moment” cancelled. Even though we are all missing things like Prom and formal graduations, the lessons learned during SaABABA are helping us all to cope and persevere.
I also was lucky to have chosen my college for Fall 2020 prior to COVID-19. I will be attending Millersville University in the fall and studying Elementary Education. I will also be part of the swim team and Honors College.
Although this pandemic brought a lot of negatives, there were also some positives. This pandemic taught people how to work efficiently and teach through Zoom, Google Classroom, and the internet, in general. The lessons and teachings gained throughout my SABABA years will definitely assist me in my future college and post-collegiate career.
The other day, I was walking on a local nature trail with one of my friends, when we saw a man walk by wearing a “Blue Lives Matter” shirt -- in particular, the kind with “The Punisher” logo on the back. Soon after, we watched a truck drive by along the road, proudly waving a flag that also read “Blue Lives Matter.”
These symbols obviously angered us, and we proceeded to rant about racial injustice for the rest of our walk. Although most people walking by may have assumed that we were in the middle of an intense argument, our conversation would probably best be described as “angrily agreeing with one another.” We were upset, so we talked about it. We were friends, and we knew that we had shared the same common ground even before we started talking. Discussing politically polarizing subjects was never difficult for us because we almost always agreed with each other (even our “Hilary vs. Bernie” debates during lunch in 8th grade were pretty tame).
We are all insular in one way or another. We find comfort with people who are like us, and avoid those who aren’t. Whether it be our friend groups, our social media feeds, or our news outlets, we wrap ourselves up in a bubble that ignores anything that may even remotely challenge our beliefs. Instead of meeting with those who may disagree with us, we often spend our time sheltering ourselves among those who do. By “angrily agreeing with each other,” we only further reinforce our notion of right and wrong and become even more hostile to anyone who may disagree. “Justice, justice, shall thou pursue!” An inspiring line from D’Varim.
However, amidst every global and social conflict, it’s difficult to pursue justice when people disagree about what that entails. Compromise is often considered impossible when one side believes it is entirely right, and the other side is entirely wrong. After all, how can someone balance a right with a wrong, or vice versa? How can one person speak up against what they believe is wrong, when the majority believes it is right? How can we maintain peace and justice if we are split on what those terms mean in our society? Countless questions can be asked, but few definite answers can be given.
Then again, maybe a straight answer isn’t supposed to be the point. Rabbi Muroff’s D’Var Torahs are famously interactive. Every Shabbat morning, he prompts the congregation with a question, and the brave congregants who raise their hands are called upon to speak. All of these responses collectively shape the conversation that Rabbi Muroff has with the congregation, and every comment is used as a springboard for insight and further discussion. Rabbi Muroff’s interactive approach is particularly the reason why I took every single one of his classes in SABABA, because he made sure that everyone’s ideas were meaningful and worthwhile. This comfortable atmosphere invited my peers and I to discuss topics we would not have explored in another setting, like Messianic Judaism and the Israel-Palestine conflict.
My favorite moments in SABABA -- in all of my classes -- were those where we spent the period having a conversation (Krav Maga was also pretty fun, too). We asked questions to one another, and in return gave answers. After all, what better way to learn, than by asking? Through questions, we invite people to explore our bubbles. We can create an open-ended platform for discussion, sharing our conflicting ideas and finding common ground.
Unfortunately, as we see time and time again, civil discourse in the modern era is far from ideal. Some people resort to shouting matches and Twitter-feuds instead of talking face-to-face and settling their differences. The media cycle often sensationalizes conflict because peaceful protests and civil discussions are far less entertaining. Some people adamantly maintain their beliefs and refuse overwhelming evidence to the contrary because they don’t want to disrupt their sense of right and wrong. I am grateful that SABABA has pushed me beyond my comfort zone and encouraged me to always ask questions. Thanks to SABABA, I know that my bubble is malleable, and it is open to change. My Jewish identity depends on the exchange between questions and answers.
As Rambam once wrote, “A student must not say ‘I understand’ when he does not, but should keep on asking questions.” As I go off to college (in-person, hopefully), I want my ideas to be challenged. I want to have disagreements because they can be launch pads for constructive conversations. I understand that no perspective is unbiased, but an informed one is the most reliable. As long as I go through life with a curious skepticism -- a confidence to always ask questions -- then I will live up to my Jewish heritage.
I graduated from Central Dauphin High School with the lucky class of 2020 and will attend the Cook Honors Program at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Anthropology and English. I enjoyed spending time with friends on Sundays at the JCC.
When I first started Sababa (or Hebrew High as it was called when we started), I decided that I was taking classes every Sunday just so I could go on the March of the Living. But then I found all of the amazing classes there were offered. I laughed with Rabbi Kessler in his Yiddish class as he taught us all the words a Jewish teen should know and learned Krav Maga with an actual Israeli specialist. I soon learned that Sababa was much more than March of the Living, but it was still a huge part. And then 2020 hit-my year to go on the trip.
I was so excited to go to Israel and Poland and I was ready to finish my senior year strong. But, during work when my supervisor listened to NPR all day, all I heard was news about the novel coronavirus - the widespread panic throughout Europe and Asia, celebrities getting sick, and friends being stuck in foreign countries. I slowly began to fear my dream would be canceled.
And then March 13 came, the day we will all remember for the rest of our lives. The day Pennsylvania shut down. No more school, work, and later that week, no more March of the Living. I was devastated. My family soon adjusted to the weirdness of being stuck together for hours on end and faced the reality that the only time I could see my family and friends was through FaceTime. Time flew by as my brother and I adjusted to online classes and as I prepared for online AP Exams.
And then came May 25, another day we will remember for the rest of our lives - the day George Floyd was brutally murdered. It was heartbreaking. My social media blew up with all kinds of posts about what happened that horrific day. I wanted to help, but also knew the dangers of going to protest. But, many of my classmates did, and documented themselves as they were pepper sprayed by police officers in Harrisburg. Everything that happened was insane, and my family began to watch the news. As a family who avoids the news, this was big for us. But as I saw protests across all 50 states and across the world, watching how this brought everyone together was surreal. Although racism should not be an issue, it sadly is one that needs solved.
In the fall, I will be attending Moravian College, majoring in biochemistry and minoring in Spanish.
On August 31, 2014, I had a big decision to make. This was a day after my Bar Mitzvah and I had to decide how I was going to continue my time in the Harrisburg Jewish Community as an "adult." Due to my love of our grand community, I wanted to be as active as I could. Immediately, my parents signed me up for SABABA (Hebrew High School at the time) so I could be able to continue my Jewish education.
For 5 years, I have gone to SABABA in order for my Jewish education to flourish, whether it be through studying Krav Maga, or watching Israeli cartoons, or learning about Jewish athletes. Being a part of SABABA was a great way to stay educated in the Jewish community and I would like to thank Sally Jo Bronner for everything she's done to make SABABA so wonderful.
As well as SABABA, I was also extremely active in a youth group known as BBYO. Throughout my time in this Pluralistic Jewish youth group, I was an active member and a passionate leader. During my sophomore year, I was lucky enough to have become our chapter's S'gan (Vice President of Programming), where I was able to plan events and programs for our chapter every month.
The next year, I was our AZA chapter's Godol (President), and BBYO was a very massive part of my Jewish journey as a whole. I am proud that I was a part of it because it has allowed me to see that my goal is to one day be a leader in the Jewish Community and to contribute as much as I can to allow our community to flourish even more.
Thank you to everyone who contributed to my time in our Jewish community.