Ethan Jach, 21, co-founded Potomac Mishmar, a group for teenagers to discuss topics that interest them that may or may not pertain to Judaism directly. Jach lives in Potomac and attends the University of Maryland, College Park.
What inspired you to start Potomac Mishmar?
Over the summer, a couple of my friends and I were home and there wasn’t really much going on, especially as far as in-person learning. So a couple of us got together Thursday nights and we’d get a guest speaker. It lasted throughout the summer.
And toward the end of the summer, a lot of high schoolers got back from camp and started coming [to group meetings]. Summer ends and I thought I could continue running it because a lot of these teens were interested.
And the teens are the ones giving the classes now. Now and then we’ll get a rabbi in the community to give a guest class, but it’s mostly the teens.
How is this program different from any other program?
We’re not affiliated with any youth groups. It’s more just our own thing. And that’s good because there’s no politics involved. It’s really what we’re all interested in. So, for example, I had this idea for artificial intelligence and Judaism, and what does Judaism have to say about that? So we kind of just looked up the sources and I led on a discussion about that.
What are most of the topics you guys cover related to?
There are topics related just to Judaism, like Shabbat or the holidays. Or like laws of kashrut. But then we have other topics. We do ethical dilemmas and what Jews and Judaism say about it.
You’ve said how you’ve seen these teens grow, but how have you grown from these discussions?
Someone asked a question, who is a wise man? And the answer is, a wise man is someone who can learn something from everyone else. And I feel like it’s been very humbling being with all these teens, and you realize they’re much smarter than you think. And it’s just great to hear all-new perspectives.
We have kids from [Berman] Hebrew Academy who give their perspective, and then [Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School students] will say, “No, this happens.”
And then we have people from [Winston Churchill High School] or other public schools. I hope parents [and] teens read this from all around Montgomery County. Everyone has their own perspective to offer, and I’d say there are sometimes even more questions than answers, because we’ll think we have a grasp on something and then someone will ask a question and none of us really knows how to address it.
What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?
Passover. We always have my extended family over for a seder and it’s always great because, like, you think of how you grow as a family. Growth as far as new members being born, but also just how everyone changes. I’ll get together [with my family] for Passover and we try to have good discussions about freedom and all that stuff. And, obviously, the singing at the end. I always have these happy memories of Passover.
Why do you like discussion-based learning more than, say, reading from a text?
I think a big trend in society is, everyone’s very opinionated. And everyone loves to give their own opinion. And, you know, if you’re just reading from a book or you’re hearing a speech, you kind of have to keep your thoughts to yourself. For discussion-based learning, the quietest kid will suddenly become the most vocal because he wants to give his opinion.
What does Potomac Mishmar mean to you?
I’m personally very, very family and community oriented. So it’s definitely my way of giving back to the community. I grew up in Potomac, and I can name so many mentors out in the community who helped me grow. And it means so much to me to be able to do the same to these teens.
To learn more about Potomac Mishmar, email Ethan Jach at [email protected]