Modern Jewish heroes were recognized at an event at the North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station last Wednesday.
A group of eight sixth- and seventh-graders held a debate to decide who is the most influential modern Jewish hero, in front of their families and other Hebrew school classes.
The event was called “Hagiborim Shelanu” which is Hebrew for “Our Heroes.”
Heather Welkes, who is in her first year working as the coordinator for experiential learning for the NSJC, coordinated the event, though it was student-run. Welkes has been teaching at the Synagogue for three years.
“I really wanted it to be student-led because I feel like if the students choose how to guide the curriculum they’re going to take ownership of that and it’s going to be that much more meaningful for them,” Welkes said in an interview after the event.
Each student had an opportunity to introduce their hero and provide an opening statement to make their case.
Then they had to answer questions from the moderator — Welkes — to strengthen their arguments.
The students were given some suggestions as to what format they wanted for their presentation. In an election year, the decision was easy.
“Since the students are aware of the presidential debates going on, they are the ones who decided that they would like to present their findings in a debate format,” Welkes said.
The heroes that were chosen came from a wide variety of fields and walks of life. Director Steven Spielberg, Major League Baseball players Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg, Adam Sandler, Holocaust survivor Jack Gruener, Anne Frank, Albert Einstein, Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon and the Boston-based band Safam were the debated heroes. A similarity among their cases for the most influential modern Jewish hero was their pride in being Jewish.
“See, like Ilan Ramon, my generation, no one knows about him,” a student who participated in the debate said. “People like Adam Sandler, some people don’t know that he’s Jewish. They just know he’s ‘that guy, he’s funny.’ Now that people know he’s Jewish, it’s better. It’s important to recognize Jewish people,”
Sandler was his hero.
Two of the participants said they had fun speaking in front of the crowd about something they were proud of. One student fought through some nerves and delivered an informative case for her hero, Anne Frank.
“I don’t like a lot of people listening,” she said after the event.
The debate was too close to call. Welkes declared it an eight-way tie, though a parent could be heard upon the conclusion saying there were more suitable presidential candidates on this stage than in the real debates.
“The kids were really engaged and we wanted to do something innovative and exciting and I think we accomplished that,” Welkes said.