Jewish Day School Teachers Ready Students for a Post-October 7 World

Since October 7, Jewish students have experienced a wave of antisemitism, anti-Zionism, and heightened anxiety about their Jewish identities on high school and college campuses. Two Beth Tfiloh students – past and present – share their perspectives of a post-October 7 life, and how their BT experiences, and their mentoring relationships with key teachers, have helped them cope.

Aviva Rubin ‘24 is a 17-year-old senior. On October 7, her mom woke her up to share that something terrible had happened in Israel. It was Shabbat, so she knew that if her mom was checking her phone, something serious must have taken place. Aviva’s brother, Noah, was serving in the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) at the time of the attack and his unit was called up to serve. After various missions and operations around Israel, Noah was sent into Gaza to serve on the front lines as a sharpshooter.

Since the war began, Aviva shared that it has been extremely difficult to focus on schoolwork and other responsibilities as her mind has been preoccupied with thoughts of her brother and the war. Attending Beth Tfiloh has provided much needed comfort and support.

On October 8, after the holiday of Simchat Torah was over, the administration immediately responded to the breakout of war in Israel and invited the entire high school to gather in our Beit Midrash (communal prayer room) to grieve together. Students, faculty, and staff prayed for the IDF, said Tehillim (psalms) and joined together to sing and cry on behalf of the Jewish people.

As the weeks progressed, BT’s school community united to raise money for various Israeli charities and brainstormed other ways to support Israel. Matan Shefler, a Beth Tfiloh teacher and shaliach (Israeli emissary), was called up to serve in the IDF reserves, making the war a reality for the entire BT community. Matan created a charity to support his unit, Golani, and together students raised nearly $10,000 through selling Israel bracelets, bake sales and collecting donations. Students and families wrote cards to send to Israeli soldiers and citizens, and teachers of all subjects incorporated discussions about Israel into their classes, promoting safe environments for their students to express their feelings and to find solace.

“The way that Beth Tfiloh has dealt with the war is admirable and is exactly what I am looking for in a university when I leave high school,” shared Aviva. “I have witnessed my friends’ experiences in other schools and have been angered and disappointed by the lack of support from their administration.”

Aviva credits her strong foundation of Judaism to her family upbringing and to her school environment. She shared that while Judaism is a huge part of her BT education, the same sentiment won’t necessarily be experienced at college. At BT, she felt that her school made Judaism meaningful, relatable, and even fun. She has taken classes with passionate and informed teachers who go the extra mile to form authentic relationships with their students, forging a lasting impact.

She felt especially impacted and inspired by her Jewish History classes, and specifically Mr. Phil Jacobs’, “Modern Problems,” opening her eyes to powerful thoughts and perspectives. Aviva mentioned that class materials and discussions illuminated the concept that people can remain sensitive to the plight of the Gazan people while at the same time remaining unapologetically Zionistic. Another teacher, Rabbi Moss, helped to connect Jewish concepts and thoughts through practical, everyday interactions, helping students live their Judaism in contemporary, meaningful ways, while they connected what they learned to real-life, meaningful moments.

Ari Geller, ’21, who is currently a student attending the University of Maryland at College Park, recalls how he knew that anti-Semitism existed, but growing up in the small Jewish Baltimore bubble shielded him from a harsh reality. He explains that attending college and immersing himself in an incredibly diverse culture encouraged him to freely express who he was. He began wearing a kippah every day and felt supported by the strong and vibrant Jewish community on campus.

Both Aviva and Ari attended the “March for Israel” in Washington D.C., along with roughly 300,000 others, marking the largest pro-Israel gathering in American history.

Ari shared, “The more antisemitism I witness around the world, the more I am motivated to increase my advocacy efforts. Our campus Hillel has become livelier, people are checking in on each other, we are continuing fundraisers, and we are sharing our voices. Although I remain worried for the safety of everyone in Israel and Jews across the world, the strength of our community gives me so much hope.”

Confident, proud Jewish leaders are born when they are inspired by knowledgeable, caring teachers who also share a deep-seeded belief in, and recognition of, Israel as the Jewish homeland, coupled with a well-versed understanding of the history of the Middle East. The ability to engage in respectful discourse with others who share differing views goes a long way in best positioning students to advocate for themselves as Jews. Both Ari and Aviva shared that Jewish Day Schools need to continue to teach students all about the complicated Middle East history for students to best position themselves to advocate for themselves and their beliefs.

For Ari, that means offering the type of education that “goes beyond learning just about Israel, but the larger context of the existence of Israel before and after 1948. Jewish Day Schools must not teach just that we should love Israel, but why we should love Israel, and what it means for the Jewish people to have a homeland today. Because, if their students have not experienced opinions that differ from the pro-Israel narrative, they will eventually. And, when that time comes, they need to be able to understand the other person’s perspective, remain respectful and understanding, yet still advocate for Israel.”

Beth Tfiloh has created a safe space for learning and growing that provides top-notch general and Judaic studies. Hebrew language, culture, history, and Torah-based values are part of everyday learning. After October 7, many current Jewish Day School families, and prospective families as well, are becoming more aware that this type of educational environment is unique and special – and unapologetically so.

Ari shared that, “When I think back to my years at BT, one of the first things I think of is the relationships I had with the teachers. The teachers at BT always went out of their way to talk to students, and truly make real connections with them. Whether that included going to many of my teacher’s homes for Shabbat and holidays, students become an extension of the teachers’ families. In the few times that I’ve been back to BT since I graduated, I’ve always looked forward to seeing and catching up with my teachers.”

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