Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

JSU now at Oviedo High School, and coming to others soon


August 25, 2017

Shown here (l-r): Eliana Smith, Dylan Sachs, Sarah Cooper, Aviv Kotler, Seth Pisano, Sami Kuperberg, Daniel Nabatian.

What is JSU? The Jewish Student Union is an after-school club that provides any high school student-regardless of Jewish affiliation-a Jewish experience through programs that strengthen their Jewish identity and connection to Israel. Run by the teenagers, a club can be established in a school simply by being requested (JSU does not barge in and establish itself).

Last year, a student at Oviedo High School experienced anti-Semitism at the school. She'd heard about the Jewish Student Union and reached out to the organization, asking what she could do. The result was the establishment of JSU at Oviedo High School through a partnership with JOIN Orlando.

At relatively the same time, Rabbi Gabi Gittleson of JOIN wanted to start JSUs in Central Florida public and private schools and he was looking for a director to run the program. Daniel and Aliza Nabatian of Kendall, Fla., ran JSUs in South Miami Dade County and were looking to relocate to Central Florida.

"It worked out!" said Nabatian, who is now the new director of JSU Orlando.

As the director of JSU Orlando, Nabatian helps coordinate and supply resources for the students and is the liaison to all organizations with whom JSU may want to partner. Each JSU also has a teacher sponsor.

JSU-a program of NCSY, which is an agency of the Orthodox Union, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization-was founded in 2002 in Los Angeles and now has more than 400 clubs on public high school campuses-60 of them in south Florida.

Nabatian explained that JSU, already in south Florida, was approached by The Palm Beach Federation to take over an existing Jewish club that folded. JSU took over the clubs and the Federation even set up special designated funds to pay for the programs.

In Orlando, Rabbi Gittleson had a productive meeting with Orange and Seminole County School Boards and the Federation's Jewish Community Relations Council. All were excited to have JSU in Orlando. Nabatian is working to establish JSU in other local high schools and anticipates seeing progress once school gets underway.

In addition to the regularly scheduled school club meetings, JSU sponsors activities outside of school including retreats, citywide holiday parties, community service projects, Friday night dinners, and other exciting events.

Early in August, JSU held a Leadership Day at Planet Obstacle in Lake Mary to "challenge the minds and bodies" of student leaders. Seven students from Oviedo, Lake Mary and Lyman high schools attended the program. Afterwards, they met to discuss "thinking outside the box."

Through JSU, Nabatian hopes to present different "pictures" of Israel-that the state is more than what is presented in the media.

"And not just Israel," he stated, "but to investigate further about anything you hear or see in the news and not to assume it is all fact."

Nabatian has already scheduled the first community service project: a Challah bake at Kinneret.

"I've had a vision for a while to bring senior citizens together with teenagers to share experiences. But you just can't sit people down together and expect them to start conversation. So, we will have a Challah bake!" he said. "And it's a way to give bread to Kinneret."

The first Challah bake is scheduled for Sept. 10-which, ironically, is Grandparents Day. They will prepare enough Challah to last four Friday Shabbat meals. Then once a month, the teens will go to Kinneret and make enough bread again to last all four Friday Shabbat meals.

A program is also in the works to bring a Holocaust survivor to speak at a meeting at Oviedo High School. The Heritage will have more on that as the plans are finalized.

To learn more about JSU or to request having the club open at your school, visit http://www.jsu.org. You can also contact Daniel Nabatian at dnabatian@joinorlando.org.


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