How to maintain our Jewish identity: Learn from CTeen Skokie!

10 months ago The Connections Staff 0

Yair Shpiler// Toronto, Canada

Featured image caption: Student Ori Hoch-Stein with her kosher meal.

As I was anxiously deciding which university to enroll in next year, I stumbled across a Chabad article that relieved a lot of the stress associated with maintaining my Jewish identity and pride in an overwhelmingly non-Jewish environment.

The article was about the close to 100 Jewish students attending the two schools compromising District 219 in Skokie, Illinois, which recently found out that maintaining their Jewish identity just became a whole lot easier with the district’s decision to begin offering a glatt-kosher meal program in the school’s cafeteria. 

Skokie CTeener Anna Copeland, holding up her recently purchased kosher lunch.

The decision came after a push from Jewish students like Skokie CTeeners Anna Copeland, Jac Copeland, Allon Sepiashvili and Chana Cantz.

The new program, which became fully operational in May of 2022, allows students to buy warm, kosher-certified wrapped meals offered by the catering company Zeldas. Even better, the meals will be priced in accordance with non-kosher options.

Chana, CTeener and sophomore at Niles North High School, one of the schools in District 219, said, “Finding out that I will have warm food at lunch and be able to eat with my friends has been extremely exciting.” 

Rabbi Yochanan Posner worked with Quest Food Management Services to ensure proper delivery and kosher observances of meals.

Historically, District 219 had a sizable Jewish student population, but over the years that number has dwindled due to changing demographics. But like a typical Chabad Rabbi, Yochanan Posner was not about to give up on the needs of the Jewish community, just as he has been doing as the director of CTeen Skokie, together with his wife Yona Posner.

Rabbi Posner and Yona are no strangers to helping Jewish students of the district feel welcome and respected. In 2019, they played a vital role in advocating for the withdrawal of a controversial educator’s training course offered by the district called “Teaching Palestine”, which included content that many saw as one-sided and did not address the complexity and nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

April Stallworth, the district’s executive director of communications and partnerships, says, “We are very pleased that our Jewish students now have access to kosher meals at school. It’s a small part we can play in ensuring they feel seen and heard in our district. We are grateful for our partnership with Rabbi Yochanan Posner who has been instrumental in this effort.”

Dr. Anne Zavell, teacher at Niles North High School, speaks with ABC 7 Chicago reporter Will Jones regarding the school’s decision to implement kosher school meals.

Fellow CTeeners: I hope this story reaffirms that maintaining our Jewish identity is never impossible with effort and dedication. It is our responsibility to ensure that our environments are inclusive for all, including Jews, and that we feel welcome and respected.

This piece of news is more than just District 219 in Skokie; it is a piece of news that reaffirms the important role of Chabad Shluchim (emissaries) around the world in helping Jews feel welcome and be able to maintain their Jewish identity in any environment they find themselves in. I feel assured and relieved knowing that there will be a Chabad Rabbi on my rural community campus who embodies the vision of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—to ensure that college students have kosher dining available to them.

Thanks to CTeen, I recognized the value of Chabad Shluchim early on, and I encourage each and every one of you, regardless of where you study or live, to reach out to your nearest CTeen chapter and see how you can bring light to your environment, whether it is hosting an event with kosher food, handing out Shabbat candles or setting up a Tefillin booth in your school.