By Howard Lev
School’s out for summer… or at least Hebrew school is! My son Lathan, while waiting to graduate secular high school at the end of June, officially completed 13 years (including kindergarten) of Hebrew school, which he lovingly refers to as “Jew school.” In those 13 years, Lathan has seen countless changes in our synagogue’s staffing and structure, including the merger of our congregation with another. He also served as a madrich for the third grade class, helped paint a mural in the school wing, and had amazing Hebrew High School experiences, including a trip to Germany to learn about survival, history, and the Holocaust.
It was the Hebrew High School curriculum that allowed my out-of-the-box thinker son to thrive. While still structured, the curriculum allowed for open discussions, where no topic was taboo. He challenged his classmates, teachers, and the clergy – sometimes just because it was fun to do. He brought his classroom discussions home, challenging my wife, daughter, and me, and into his secular high school, challenging his teachers and classmates there.
The classroom gave Lathan his book smarts, but his education extends far beyond the classroom. His time in NFTY and in BNTY, our temple youth group, has molded his passion for Judaism, given him a social conscience, and transformed him from a follower into a leader. From the moment he joined the junior youth group Lathan, jumped into the proverbial deep end of the pool, involving himself with every aspect of youth group from the Purim Carnival to social action engagement to leadership training with the Union for Reform Judaism. By his senior year, he was elected president of BNTY.
During his two years as BNTY’s Religious and Cultural Vice-President, Lathan was responsible for writing two youth group services including assigning parts, picking the music and helping to conduct rehearsals. His work for youth group translated to NFTY and attending Kallah. He was on the computer using Skype, Facebook and e-mail at all hours, working with NFTY leadership to create services and programs.
My wife and I had the opportunity to observe Lathan’s leadership skills at temple youth group services, as well as at the recent winter Kallah, held at our temple. Even as the services were in progress, he was whispering to people making sure to get ready, ensuring that they were on the correct page and giving last-minute pep talks. Lathan’s intensity was obvious, even from the back of the sanctuary.
He and another youth group member also had the chance to represent BNTY at Convention 2013. There is a favorite picture of mine of Lathan at Convention playing guitar. Considering he has never played prior, he was so comfortable in his surroundings that he let his guard down, something he doesn’t always do. Upon his return, Lathan picked up my wife’s student guitar that had been gathering dust, had the strings replaced and started to strum, and hasn’t stopped. BNTY and NFTY gave him his soul.
A very wise man at my temple told me it is time to let Lathan grow. He is right. Soon, Lathan will be in the honors program at a local college. Though it is unlikely that he will go on to become a rabbi or cantor (though he would be terrific at it), he is already talking about joining Hillel, going on Birthright, and figuring out how he can attend NFTY Convention 2015 and the URJ Biennial after that.
My wife and I are confident his experiences to date will allow him to open locked doors, take chances, and most importantly, create opportunities for himself. Truly, our son’s Jewish education has changed his life – and I know it will continue to.
Howard Lev is a member of Temple B’nai Torah in Wantagh, N.Y., where he is the press representative and serves on the religious education and rituals committees. Married with two children, Howard is a theatre professional who has worked on a number of Broadway and off-Broadway shows, including the national tour of The King & I.