Rabbi Chaim Neiditch, director, Jewish Student Union in Atlanta
Rabbi Neiditch runs the Jewish Student Union in Atlanta, which creates a positive impression of Judaism for teens in non-Jewish high schools who may have lost touch with their Jewish roots.
JSU, which operates independently in the Atlanta area, can be found in dozens of public and private schools. Rabbi Neiditch said the value of JSU lies in its accessibility. The free program comes to the students at school.
With 2,500 kids in JSU, the program boasts participation of 25 percent of Atlanta’s Jewish high-schoolers.
Rabbi Neiditch pitched JSU to Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, then-Spanx CEO Laurie Ann Goldman, and Definition 6 founder and CEO Michael Kogon at Federation’s “Shark Tank” event in summer 2013. The three sharks chose JSU over six other nonprofit pitches, earning Rabbi Neiditch’s program a grant.
JSU is a program of experiential learning; kids learn by participating in a process. In addition to programs such as challah making and sukkah building, Rabbi Neiditch takes students on camping, skiing and beach trips.
Through JSU, Rabbi Neiditch has created a resource for teens outside day schools, resulting in a more confident and comfortable Jewish presence in secular schools and a more connected Jewish community.
“We’re hitting this huge need that’s there and isn’t being filled,” Rabbi Neiditch said. “Kids just want programming. We have no other goal. We aren’t a feeder for something else. This is what we’re doing.”