Non-Jewish student leads Jewish Culture Club

Sonia Zaacks, Features Editor

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Junior Wesley Chen demonstrates how to braid challah during a club meeting on Nov. 11, 2017. Under Chen’s guidance, club members have learned about various Jewish holidays, practices and cultural activities. Photo by Sonia Zaacks

Braiding challah, making Purim masks and watching Israeli television shows are all parts of junior Wesley Chen’s Wednesday afternoons. As co-president of Jewish Culture Club, Chen is responsible for planning activities related to Jewish culture for the club members. Despite his leadership position in the club, Chen is not Jewish.

Before becoming co-president with senior Arielle Greenberg, Chen said his first introduction to Jewish Culture Club was when he stopped by for pizza one afternoon last year. Since then, he has been an active member of the club and was asked by a former board member to take on a leadership position.

“I just like learning about the Jewish culture,” said Chen. “A large part of the club is [celebrating] holidays and Jewish traditions. For example, we talk about what it means to keep kosher, and it was just really interesting to me, so I just kept doing the club, and over time, it became one of the things I was most involved with.”

According to Chen, he faced opposition when some members as well as students outside of the club did not think he was suited for the position because of his religious affiliation.

“When I tell people I’m the president, or if I tell people I’m part of the Jewish club, they do not take me as seriously because I’m not Jewish,” said Chen. “Sometimes when I tell people [I am in the] club, they think it is a joke, and they laugh.”

Rodolfo Perez, Jewish Culture Club sponsor, who is also not Jewish, said he does not see Chen’s religion as a reason he should not be co-president, as Glenbrook North is a very welcoming community.

“The other [members] welcome him and embrace him, and that is a big aspect of the club and welcoming new members,” Perez said.

Senior Karina Kipnis, a member of the Jewish Culture Club, said non-Jewish students who join the club have the opportunity to learn more about a different religion.

“I think [Chen being president is] pretty cool because it shows people that you do not have to be just Jewish to be in this club and that anyone can join it,” Kipnis said.

According to Chen, to further his leadership skills, he went to a conference in Chicago that was hosted by the Jewish Community Center, also known as the JCC. Chen, along with other Jewish Culture Club members, met at the retreat and participated in leadership activities and discussed ways to improve club recruitment and inspire people to be interested in Judaism.

Chen said being in the club has expanded his knowledge of Judaism in many different ways such as the Jewish holidays.

“Most of the stuff I learned about Judaism was during the club [meetings],” said Chen. “I knew some things like some of the holidays [such as] Yom Kippur or Purim. But now, being in the club, I’ve learned a lot more.”

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Non-Jewish student leads Jewish Culture Club