By Megan Martin
Jew Crew is a club that was created at Alameda High in the 2015-2016 school year, drawing students from Jewish backgrounds and students with no knowledge of what Judaism is into one classroom for club meetings every Friday. With the holiday season having come and gone, some of these students talked about what Jew Crew, Judaism and Hannukah mean to them.
Presidents and co-founders Helen Montell-Weiland and Sydney Lipow, both seniors, were joking in class one day about starting a Jewish club, yet as they thought about it more they realized that it made sense and no one has done that at Alameda High yet.
Montell-Weiland says that she loves to hang out with her friends who are Jewish because they all have something to relate to, so she wanted to create that environment where they can connect. “We have a lot of specific experiences that a lot of other people don’t have and we just want to talk about that,” said Montell-Weiland.
Jew Crew has the aim of celebrating cultural Judaism instead of religious because “we don’t like the idea of a religion club,” said Lipow. Lipow adds that it is hard to separate culture and religion because they are intertwined in so many places, but they try their best.
Club member Ellie Kruglikov, a senior, decided to join because the members were largely people from her old Hebrew school that she had grown up with. They were all really close friends but have not been able to spend time together since they all were bat mitzvahed, “so it was a place for us to hang out and mostly socialize and talk about holidays and religion,” said Kruglikov.
In club meetings, the presidents enact intellectual discussions and fun activities that explore the culture of Judaism. For example, for Hannukah they did activities such as Dreidel, but they focused on explaining the culture, history, and story behind it, while eating lots of delicious food and having fun with their friends. Montell-Weiland states that her favorite part about Jew Crew is that the club members are into having intellectual discussions. “Sometimes we stray from Jewish things but I think a big part of Judaism is questioning things, being curious about the world, and I think our conversations in Jew Crew match that ideology,” said Montell-Weiland.
The majority of the members in Jew Crew identify as mainly culturally Jewish.
Montell-Weiland used to go to Temple when she was younger, and also went to Hebrew school every week until she was bat mitzvahed. She attended a Jewish summer camp for six years. “Before camp my relationship to Judaism was just going to Temple and learning Hebrew, and learning about religious things, which is kind of boring. But at camp we just did the fun parts so I was like, oh, this is what I like,” said Montell Weiland. She is not certain of what her views on God are, but she loves the traditions.
Lipow feels that she is “not that Jewish,” but she did attend temple every Friday night until she was in the second grade, and then attended Hebrew school every Sunday. She was not bat mitzvahed but she did attend a Jewish summer camp for 10 years. Lipow also celebrates Hanukkah every year.
Kruglikov states that she is an atheist but still goes to Temple because she likes the people, traditions, holidays, and generally the community it makes. “As I got older I could form my own opinion about it rather than follow my parents, so I am a little less religious than my mom is, but I still follow in the traditions of it,” said Kruglikov. Her favorite experience at Temple is the High Holidays. Kruglikov and her sister lead the Haftorah, a blessing that is a version of the Torah that people used to use when the Torah was forbidden. “We just lead the whole congregation and it is fun,” said Kruglikov.
While the Jewish students represented in this club are not that religious, they expressed annoyance that school is in session during almost all Jewish holidays, but they understand why it has to be.
“It is really annoying because my cousins in Israel get every Jewish holiday off and it is just like really great,” said Montell-Weiland. She said that Hanukkah is not that big of a deal because it happens at night, but other holidays where they have to go to Temple during the day instead of school gets problematic. “I used to do those but I can’t do that anymore because missing school is too hard to do right now,” she said.
Montell-Weiland said she understands that because there are a lot of Jewish holidays, the school district does not have enough time to give up those days because they need to fill requirements.
Lipow feels that because she is not very active in her Jewish faith, celebrating the high holidays is not problematic for her, but she does believe it is an issue. “I definitely do think it is a historically Christian country, it’s not even just Judaism that is overlooked it is all these other religions that people don’t get holidays off for, so I definitely see how it bothers people,” said Lipow.
Kruglikov maintains a similar sentiment. She understands that Christian holidays are in the majority and that if we had school during Christmas it would be a lot more problematic for a lot more people. Yet it is still “pretty inconvenient” because she is forced to finish her homework before she can celebrate Hanukkah.
For Hanukkah this year, Kruglikov and Montell-Weiland both attended Hanukkah parties, and Lipow celebrated with her family.
Jew Crew participated in a secret Santa for their club, but as Montell-Weiland explained, they called it a “secret Hanukkah fairy.”