Iowa City High students start Jewish Studies club to educate peers on Judaism

Two Jewish Iowa City High School students wanted to create an environment to gather their Jewish peers together. After getting the green light from their principal, they founded the school’s Jewish Studies club.


Katie Goodale

City High juniors Tobey Estein (left) and Jeremiah Collins (right) stand in front of City High on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. Estein and Collins started a Jewish Studies club at City High to educate both Jewish and non-Jewish students about Judism.

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

Two Iowa City High School juniors started a club this year to learn about Judaism with their peers as a way to create a space to learn about the religion within the school, which has a small Jewish-student population.

The City High Jewish Studies club, recently founded by high-school students Tobey Epstein and Jeremiah Collins, welcomes both Jewish and non-Jewish students at its Tuesday meetings.

“Initially, before we gave it any thought, it was just kind of like, ‘Hey let’s get all the Jews together, just as a joke, that would be fun,’ ” Epstein said. “And then it evolved from there.”

The club has seen anywhere between six to 20 people at its seven meetings thus far, Epstein said.

Collins said the pair brings bagels, provided by a local synagogue, for a 45-minute gathering after school on Tuesdays to teach their peers about Judaism through slideshows and games.

So far, the club has covered topics such as synagogues, kosherism, Hanukkah, Jewish holidays, and other Jewish traditions, Collins said. They try to throw in jokes and memes to make the slideshows interesting, he added.

“For me, it’s just through my life I’ve experienced a lot of, not necessarily hate — while there has been some though — but just ignorance about Judaism,” Collins said. “For me, it’s a way to teach people so that we can get rid of misconceptions and it’s just a very positive environment to be able to do that.”

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The club is not just for Jewish students, Collins emphasized, but for everyone. The goal of the club is not to convert people to Judaism, he added, but to educate people.

“It’s a nice passion project for me and Jeremiah,” Epstein said. “We like putting a lot of time into it and I think one of the benefits, for me at least, and for Jeremiah I know, is that we’ve both learned quite a lot from doing it.”

The two have met with a local synagogue to discuss the future of the club and the possibility of bringing in guest speakers to teach the students, Epstein said.

With the help of the synagogue, Collins said they hope to bring in specialists on topics such as Jewish history, Judaism, and the LGBTQ community to talk to the club.

“It’s very exciting when a new person comes and they tell us they had fun, they tell us they learned because we’re reaching more people, and that’s our goal,” he said.

Iowa Hillel Student Board President Caleb Marx said he was president of his Minnesota high school Jewish club, which was a local chapter of the national Jewish Student Union. All of Marx’s friends in high school were Jewish, he said, so the club meetings were just a time for him to hang out with his friends and learn more about his faith.

Having a Jewish club at a high school is important in fostering a community of people with the same faith, Marx said. It also helps educate people about Judaism to eliminate ignorance and negligence to the religion, he added.

Marx said he has experienced anti-Semitic attacks, including having his car keyed and people spitting on him for wearing a Star of David necklace. Through educating non-Jewish people, Marx said, the number of similar attacks could decrease.

“There’s so much hatred for a group of people that there’s only 16 million of us, and [our numbers are] going down because of people like this that are just so ignorant about who we actually are,” Marx said. “We are a very loving and caring religion who has nothing to harm against another person. We just believe in God and love each other.”

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