Building ‘Concrete’ Community

Posted on October 19, 2023

A teacher sporting a “Free Palestine” t-shirt. Muslim students calling for a walkout from class in support of Hamas. Classmates posting bomb threats on social media.

These are just some examples of the anti-Semitism thousands of Jewish teens in public schools across the region have been dealing with since the outbreak of war in Israel.

Most of these teens don’t have strong Jewish networks. They know little, if anything, about the complexities of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. And they are being fed inaccurate information – and frightening imagery – by social media.

But there is good news. Midwest NCSY runs 45 Jewish Student Union (JSU) clubs at public schools across the region. These clubs are now seeing record attendance, with local teens searching for – and finding – connection and community in otherwise unwelcoming, and even hostile, environments.

Here’s a sampling of how our staff has been on the “front lines” here in Minneapolis this past week.

Building ‘Concrete’ Community

For Ellie Weiss, a freshman at Minnetonka High School, sometimes the school day “can be really hard” – and in recent days, things have gotten harder.

“I have very few Jews in my classes,” she explains. “It feels like I’m the only one that cares about what’s happening.”

That changed last week when she went to JSU, where there was an open and honest discussion about the war in Israel.

“It was really nice to see everyone and be able to talk about it,” says Ellie. “I felt like I was a part of a community.”

Gabriela Schraber, a senior at Hopkins High School, was one of a number of Jewish teens who came to school dressed in blue and white last week. Like Ellie, she says she came to JSU to be “unified” with other Jewish teens – and she wasn’t disappointed.

“I felt comforted and heard by my other peers since a lot of us were going through the same emotions,” she says.

In general, Gabriela says she appreciates having JSU at her school because it serves as a safe space where teens can learn more about Judaism, and “express their Judaism and the Jewish version of themselves.”

And this week was no exception.

“I always felt a sense of belonging, but during this specific discussion in JSU, I felt [even] more connected to my peers,” she says.

Leo Holocomb, a senior at Southwest High School, echoes Gabriela’s and Ellie’s sentiments.

Participating in JSU this week “felt like a relief, like I had a concrete community to be a part of,” he says.

And after receiving support – and knowledge – from Minneapolis NCSY/JSU Director Mindy Daitchman and other club members, he says, “I felt a lot more confident in my ability to take on the Israel conflict.”

For her part, Mindy says it was “an intense week” that included a teen walking into a JSU club and yelling “Free Palestine,” and Jewish teens telling her that their peers told them that they and their families “deserve to die.”

“There are teens here that are really hurting inside,” she says. “At JSU we provide that safe space where they can be vulnerable and share and get the support they need.”

Perhaps Leo put it best when asked what was his biggest takeaway from JSU this week.

“Am Yisrael Chai,” he says.

Shabbos of Unity Empowers and Uplifts Local Teens

In response to the terrifying news coming out of Israel, Minneapolis JSU held a Shabbat of Unity on Oct. 13 to bring together Minneapolis Jewish teens in a show of solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Israel.

Sixteen teens attended the Friday night event, which featured candle lighting, services and Shabbat dinner. Guest speaker John Ghermezian, Chief Business Officer of Mall of America, shared his experience of being in Israel when war broke out and led a discussion on how to bring about positive change.

Olivia Windhorst-Chandler, a sophomore at Edina High School, says she attended the Shabbat of Unity because she felt the need to be with like-minded Jews.

“It can be really isolating being a Jewish person at a public school during these times, and I was looking for support and community with other Jewish people,” she says.

Michael Cherevatsky, a senior at Eastview High School said he, too, was looking to come together with others “who share my identity and I can relate to, to stand up to this hatred.”

Michael adds that he enjoyed the chance to meet new people, the great food, and the conversations around the dinner table. But most of all, he says, “Being at the Shabbat felt empowering and reassuring that good will rise above.”

JSU Teens Show Solidarity for Israeli Basketball Team

Fifty JSU teens were among the many Jewish community members who came out on Oct. 17 to cheer on Maccabi Ra’anana in an exhibition game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center.

The teens, who hail from 16 JSU clubs across Minneapolis and St. Paul, came to show their solidarity for the Israeli basketball team – and Israel.

For Avital Krebs, a sophomore at Breck High School, the highlight was singing “Am Yisrael Chai” at the end of game.

“I [also] saw how many people truly care about Israel in a Jewish community that, when I compare [it] with my friends’ communities in New York and New Jersey, seems so small,” she adds, “and that was really inspiring.”

Benny Zweigbaum, a freshman at Edina High School, says he enjoyed meeting the Israeli players and getting their autographs. And like Avital, he was moved by the sheer number of Jews in attendance.

“The game impacted me [because I saw] how much Israel is supported in the state of Minnesota and how many people are willing to show their support for it,” he says.

For Micah Schoenberger, a Junior at St. Louis Park, the game was also an opportunity to connect with Israel.

“I felt good because I felt like I was supporting a team that is probably going through hard times right now,” Micah says.

Tickets for the teens were generously sponsored by Monarch Healthcare Management.

If you or your teen needs support or just wants to talk, please reach out to Mindy Daitchman, Minneapolis JSU/NCSY Director, at or Sabrina Danelich, Minneapolis JSU/NCSY Associate Director at We look forward to hearing from you!