The Making of a Mensch

It’s hard leaving your family and going into the unknown. That’s what it can feel like to a lot of Solomon Schechter graduates when they go off to their respective high schools. I thought it would be nice if every 8th grader had a Schechter alumni “buddy” at the high school where he or she will be going – someone to talk to who understands what it’s like to make the transition from a small, close-knit, supportive environment, where everyone feels like a family; one person to wave to in the hall at your new school before you get to know people.

Ella C, Class of 2011, Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth County

Ella first conceived the idea for an alumni buddy network as a Facebook group connecting current Schechter 8th graders with alumni in high school. It expanded to connect alumni in high school with those in college as well, “so there is always a Schechter friend to talk to when you take your next step,” Ella explained.

“At Schechter, we were taught by example to help others and support our immediate and extended community,” Ella added. “There is a feeling of family at the school, and family takes care of each other.”

Ella attended a specialized high school in its Humanities Scholars program. She credits Solomon Schechter with helping her get in to the competitive and prestigious program.

“We counsel 8th graders to consider specialized high school options that may be a fit for them,” said Linda Glickstein of the Solomon Schechter Day School. “We encourage them to apply to competitive high schools that will continue to challenge them academically, enrich them personally, and help them grow to their full potential, as Schechter has. Most of all, after being in a close family environment here, we want to make sure the kids wind up where they are likely to have the most success.” This support pays off. The school has a high success rate of acceptances into specialized high schools, Glickstein said.

Beyond academic success, Ella points to life lessons she learned and all the support she received at Schechter. Today, she is paying that forward by supporting Israel. She is involved with Write On For Israel, a highly selective initiative of The Jewish Week newspaper based in New York City. Write On For Israel educates and empowers top high school students to stand up for Israel through journalism, activism, and thought leadership. The program includes training in writing op-eds, organizing college campus events and informational campaigns, public speaking, relationship building and more.

According to Write On For Israel, graduates of the program demonstrate an increased level of knowledge about Israel, more sophisticated writing, research, and debate skills with regard to Israel, and a greater sense of commitment towards the Jewish state.

“I would not have applied to Write On For Israel if I hadn’t gone to Solomon Schechter,” Ella explains. “I’m also pretty sure that everything I gained from going to Schechter is what helped me get in.”

Ella experienced Israel for the first time during the trip that Solomon Schechter takes with its entire 8th grade class each year.

“It brought to life everything we had learned all those years in school,” she explained. “Seeing it with the people you’ve grown up with – your classmates, friends, and teachers – that was really special.”

Ella has been active for several years in The Friendship Circle, becoming co-president of the Chabad of Western Monmouth program, through which teens provide friendship and support to children with special needs.

“At Schechter, we learned to help others and include everyone,” Ella commented. “In the Friendship Circle, we make sure everyone has friends and feels part of the community.”

The word mensch comes to mind. Webster’s dictionary defines the Yiddish word as a person of integrity and honor.

“Investing in Jewish day schools is tantamount to investing in future generations of mensches,” said Bob Gutman, Jewish Federation board member. “A strong Jewish future will require new generations of well-informed, community-minded, proactive leaders. Ella is only a few years out of Solomon Schechter, and already she is a living example of the kind of ‘dividends’ that investing in day schools produces for the Jewish community.” Gutman explained that Jewish Federation provides support to Solomon Schechter and several other Jewish day schools in the area.

“Ella knows the value of having a buddy on your side,” Glickstein added. “She is acting on that conviction through the Schechter alumni network, Write On For Israel, The Friendship Circle, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Similarly, Jewish Federation and Solomon Schechter know the value of being there for each other, and it is making a world of difference for the entire Jewish community of today and tomorrow.”