A teenage boy, there a lot of places where Ari Glasstein could be spending his spare time, but the 15-year-old prefers the comfort and fellowship of his synagogue, Congregation Shalom in Fox Point.
Ari has attended the temple “for basically his whole life,” starting out in Sunday school at the age of 4. It’s there that the curious teen enjoys learning about his religion and being around Jewish kids like him, something he really doesn’t get to do anywhere else.
“It’s always been easy being at temple. The clergy and all the adults are pretty easy to talk to. They understand teens and kids pretty well,” Ari said.
When he’s not perfecting his tennis game, practicing the violin — either in private lessons or as part of the school orchestra – or practicing his public speaking skills, the sophomore at Homestead High School in Mequon can often be found spending time with his peers or younger kids at Shalom.
As a member of the madrichim program, Ari works as a mardrich, or helper teacher, at the synagogue’s Sunday school. He currently teaches kids in the first grade about the Torah.
“I read lots of books to the kids, I help out with art projects. And if the teacher needs me to go get something, I can do that,” Ari explained recently. “I am basically just another pair of hands. I like to be with the younger kids and helping them.”
After teaching the younger kids in the morning, Ari takes classes with other teens preparing for confirmation. The classes are geared toward kids who have already had their bar or bat mitzvah, but are looking to deepen their knowledge of Judaism.
For this year’s confirmation trip the students will be going to Washington D.C. in December to participate in the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s L’Taken Social Justice Seminar. As part of the seminar the students “will learn about topics that are pertinent and current today,” Ari explained.
The teens will then write speeches about issues and get a chance to deliver those speeches to their representatives in Congress.
“A lot of people, after their bar or bat mitzvah, just drop out (of Sunday school),” Ari said, but he has enjoyed sticking with it, mostly for the adults and clergy who teach, and for the courses themselves.
“Once you get older, the topics become a lot more interesting, and more relevant to you,” he said, noting that the classes give him a chance to put everything he has learned over the years together.
“And, just being with people I can relate to is fun,” he said. “It is definitely better than school.”
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The Chronicle is featuring eight Jewish teens who give back to their community – one for each Chanukah candle! Is there a synagogue, community or teen you’d like to recommend for our next Teen Leaders project? Let us know at Chronicle@MilwaukeeJewish.org.