How does Judaism shape students’ political beliefs?

The Marquette High School Politics Club with special guest State Rep. Bill Otto. Photo courtesy of Greg Sirnovsky.  

By Greg Sirnovsky, Junior, Marquette High School

At 3:05 p.m. every other Thursday, Tali Gorodetsky, a sophomore at Marquette High School, runs down the hall from her seventh-hour math room, meeting friends in the history wing for an hour and 15 minutes of spirited debate in the MHS Politics Club.

Tali is a proud member of the St. Louis Jewish community, having held many positions in her BBYO group and visiting Israel every summer. She is also a proud connoisseur of politics and is the secretary of the MHS Politics Club, as chosen in popular elections held in May.

Tali said her love of politics stems from the way she was brought up. Her parents raised her to be politically aware, form opinions and build her own ideals.

“My parents raised me as a child who should always be interested and always looking out in the world,” Tali said. “They didn’t want us to be ignorant and in a bubble of what we see. That’s what helps us grow.”

Tali said her Jewish faith has played a large role influencing her political views, particularly with regards to U.S. support of Israel.

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“My Jewish faith is very important to me,” Tali said. “A lot of times, I have to look at how different decisions will affect my homeland or how they will shape the other rights of religions. All religions should have the same opportunities as everyone else.”

Scott Szevery, a history teacher at MHS and sponsor of the Politics Club, said students with Jewish values play a large role in perpetuating important discussions about politics in a mature, civil manner.

“They have the spirit of what we’re trying to do, and promoting respect is a big part of that,” he said. “Some of our Jewish members have some understanding of what it’s like to feel that someone is attacking, and as a result, they come at politics with a feeling of diplomacy.”

Szevery said he feels that the presence of religion often guides students in making good decisions. 

“Religion in its truest form provides principles and guidance for every aspect of one’s life,” Szevery said. “You have to have some core values that you adhere to. For an ideal citizen, whatever those core values are, whether they be religious or ethnically based, they should then determine your political beliefs.”

Alex Dubinsky, a senior at Parkway Central High School, is the president of his school’s Social Studies Honors Society and the St. Louis organizer for the Students United Against Gun Violence campaign.

Alex said his religious beliefs shape the way in which he views and promotes many political candidates.

“There are certain values in the Jewish religion like tikkun olam that do shape how I think about certain policies and opinions,” he said. “When I see some of the candidates for president and for Congress, I look at how those candidates’ policies are going to help the everyday person.”

Alex said that his Jewish heritage allows him to view matters of political consequence from an entirely different perspective. 

“The debate over Syrian refugees is one thing that I’m really passionate about,” he said. “This is the worst refugee crisis since World War II, where we were those refugees. If I didn’t realize that these are people who really need help, I feel like I would be turning my back on my own Jewish history.” 

Jessie Calvert, a senior at Parkway West High School, is half Jewish. He said he attributes his sense of politics to one source: comedy.

“Last year I started discovering more comedians,” he said. “Typically, the ones that I see on television or the internet are very liberal. I think that I’ve started to develop ideas of my own that stray a little bit from my parents.”

Jessie said his exposure to two religions has given him the experience to gain a unique political and social understanding.

“I’ve really begun to open my eyes to the problems in the world, whether it be discrimination of people because of their race or gender or religion,” he said. “My religious beliefs play a huge role in that because the bible speaks a lot about being kind and loving others. I think it’s really important that we prioritize the masses over individuals.”