July 20, 2024
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July 20, 2024
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Kosher Food Club Uplifts Teaneck High

The KFC Club Chanukah party at Teaneck High School.

In the aftermath of the horrific attacks on Israel on October 7, Jewish students at Teaneck High School have shared feelings of alienation and isolation on a campus that was once a place for them to thrive. But thanks to the hard work of the Friends of Lubavitch in Bergen County, teens have found a safe space and a source for emotional support at the weekly Kosher Food Club, hosted by Rabbi Michoel Goldin and supervised by Adina Lefkowitz and Goldie Minkowitz, who both teach math at Teaneck High. During their lunch period, students gather to eat good kosher food and talk about Jewish culture and values with Rabbi Goldin—an oasis in the turmoil that has affected Teaneck in recent months.

“We really have a mix of students who attend the Kosher Food Club, or as we call it, ‘KFC’ Club,” explained Rabbi Goldin. “We even have non-Jewish students who come to learn more about our culture and spend time with their Jewish friends…I really wanted everyone to feel welcome and we work hard to create that space and foster relationships on campus.”

Rabbi Goldin’s Wednesday night class for teens at the Chabad house.

Rabbi Goldin has been working with Teaneck teens for the past 14 years, under the auspices of Rabbi Ephraim and Nechamy Simon, as the Chabad youth director. Before starting the KFC Club at Teaneck High School, Rabbi Goldin spent time creating community service opportunities for kids and teens through “Kids in Action,” eventually getting to know the local students who subsequently created the campus club with the help of their teachers, Minkowitz and Lefkowitz. Like all clubs at Teaneck High School, KFC Club is entirely student-led and thrives on the camaraderie between teens of all backgrounds.

The food itself is not student-sponsored, and is generously funded by the Chabad and purchased by Rabbi Goldin himself. “We get sushi from Cedar Market, who graciously gives us 10% off for the club,” said Rabbi Goldin. “We get bagels or pizza from Sammy’s, shawarma from Sababa, schnitzel, everything. I pay for it because I believe in what I do.”

The club meets once per week with two time slots, corresponding with “lunch A” and “lunch B,” meaning that Rabbi Goldin is pressed for time when it comes to making an impact. “I try to engage the kids right away, check in with them, and then move to a discussion from Torah that could be relatable.” He shared a recent example, where he used a lesson from the weekly parsha to talk about honoring your parents, noting that it’s important to use stories and lessons for the non-Jewish students as well.

Rabbi Goldin also occasionally breaks out his alternate persona, Doctor Schnitzel, who performs science experiments that integrate important messages in a fun and interactive way. “Recently, I brought in a bunch of colors and mixed them together. I used that demonstration to talk about how when different colors come together, we can actually create a lot of beautiful things—and that since October 7, it’s been so important to remember that even though we’re all different, we need to come together to make something beautiful. Although each color maintains its own identity, it also mixes with others to create something of its own….and that’s the definition of true unity.”

Because of his role on campus, Rabbi Goldin was approached by the Jewish students after their classmates walked out in support of Palestine on November 29. “They were really shaken up by it. I became the go-to person for the broader community, because I have a good relationship with the teens, and I was ultimately able to get three of them to talk about it publicly,” he shared. “It was a really traumatic experience for everyone. Teaneck High has generally been a very open and accepting place—but this brought a lot of pain and division.”

Thankfully, as Rabbi Goldin explained, the climate on campus has been improving, thanks in part to spaces like the KFC Club, where teens can come and relax, and “just be happy to focus on the things that bring us together.” He continued that the focus of the club is never political, and that his job is “bring everyone together.”

The members of the KFC Club participated in one of many chesed projects.

“We’re not going to solve that issue here,” said Rabbi Goldin. “We really just want to find common ground and put the things that separate us on the back burner. As a Chabad rabbi, I know we are supposed to bring light to the darkness, and ignite souls with love and acceptance. That’s how we’ll make the darkness go away.”

Lighting up the souls of the teens at Teaneck High has brought meaning to Rabbi Goldin’s efforts and has demonstrated the impact that the KFC club has made since its inception. One such story, Rabbi Goldin recalled, was of a Chanukah party he threw for the teens several years ago. During “lunch A,” only one student came, feeling dejected that no one else was present. Rabbi Goldin told the student that he would have the party anyway, because it was worth it to celebrate with just him. As it turned out, the rest of the students came during “lunch B” under the impression that there would only be one time slot for the party—and Rabbi Goldin forgot about the whole ordeal. Fast forward five years, and that same student called up Rabbi Goldin needing serious life advice about a non-Jewish girlfriend, noting that “you’re the only rabbi I feel comfortable talking to.” Because of that one moment where he was made to feel special by the KFC Club at Teaneck High, the former student ultimately determined that he should settle down with someone Jewish.

That story is just a snippet of the impact that the KFC Club has had on Teaneck’s Jewish students. Rabbi Goldin added that for teens who are not at Teaneck High School, he also hosts a weekly Torah class at the Chabad house, on Wednesday evenings, similar in nature to the club on campus, where good food is enjoyed and Jewish perspectives are learned.

“My job is to inspire the teens to be really proudly Jewish and to be happy people,” said Rabbi Goldin. “The underlying message is that it’s all in our Torah values; to get together and learn from one another to create positivity and spread light.”

Rabbi Goldin urges those who want to speak about the tensions at Teaneck High School, or anyone who just wants to chat, to reach out to him at [email protected]. He also noted that the KFC Club is welcome to sponsors and discounts from local kosher restaurants!

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