Like so many members of this community, I owe a debt of appreciation to JET (Jewish Education through Torah). My unique experience of growing up with JET has been a key contributor to the person that I am today.
I was only five years old when the initial idea took off. My parents, Rabbi Zischa and Lauren Shaps, alongside my Grade 2 teacher, Rabbi Yossi Skaist, created a schedule of weekly Torah classes and Hebrew reading courses, offered throughout the week. Over the next few years, the scope and scale of the programming became progressively bigger and better. Shabbatons, holiday gatherings, Shabbat dinners, and a variety of learning opportunities for members of the community of every level were just some of the highlights that JET would come to offer.
To be honest, growing up with JET did not mean that I personally attended any of the classes. I spent my time doing whatever kids do. Nevertheless, growing up in a home that sometimes felt like Grand Central Station with all the comings and goings – whether for Shabbat meals, events in the house, meetings, or just people sleeping over sometimes for a week or more, my siblings and I learned so much from these experiences.
Perhaps what we learned most is the importance of every individual. The success of a program or class is not determined by how many people are there, but by who is there. Each and every person has great value, potential for greatness, and something to offer to those around them. We learned not to count anyone out, as it may be the last person you’d expect who goes on to make the greatest impact. And that a person’s impact is sometimes hard to measure.
We learned to respect and appreciate every individual, regardless of who they are or how different they may be. I don’t know too many other kids who were exposed to so many people from so many backgrounds on such a frequent basis, as we were. Aside from merely enhancing our social skills, we also developed a deep respect for every person, regardless of his or her background, knowledge, or outrageous opinions!
We learned about the importance of strong relationships and genuine caring for others. To paraphrase the dean of my yeshiva, Rabbi Dovid Harris, “To be successful one must have a love for Torah and a love for people. If someone only cares about people, but not about the Torah, then one’s value system can easily become distorted. On the other hand, if someone only cares about Torah, but not about people, it will be impossible for a person to (a) uphold the Torah or (b) impart it to others.” Growing up with JET there was always this dual emphasis. Teaching Torah was always a priority, but with the knowledge that there has to be a strong relationship and concern for every individual.
At JET’s annual Jewish Unity Live event on Sunday, May 14, at Centrepointe Studio Theatre, JET will celebrate 25 years by highlighting 25 individuals from our community who have been directly impacted by what JET has accomplished. No, my siblings and I were not asked to fill five of these spots, but, rest assured, it only takes the smallest amount of reflection to recognize how much we have gained from these past 25 years