Among the course offerings at Westfield High School that allow and encourage students to explore the world’s diverse peoples and cultures is the academic elective, Comparative Religions

This half-year elective for grades 9-12 combines readings with class discussion to help students gain an understanding of the moral and spiritual values of many of the major religions.  On a recent Friday, students in Cathy Luis’ class welcomed a special visitor to learn firsthand the tenets of Judaism.

Rabbi Ethan Prosnit of Temple Emanu-El of Westfield explained the Jewish faith as a monotheistic tradition.  He shared with the class the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures; a Tallit or prayer shawl; and a Tzedakah box, a receptacle for collecting money for charitable purposes.

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These three items, said the rabbi, serve as a constant reminder of the Jewish people’s commitment to their history and traditions, a life of prayer, and acts of loving kindness.

“Like a three-legged stool, if you take away one of the legs, the stool will fall,” Prosnit told the students.  “Our religion stands on this tradition.”

Prosnit fielded thoughtful questions from the students about Judaism which he called “a culture, a religion, and a nationality.”  He noted a rise in anti-Semitism across the world and called on Jews and non-Jews to come together to speak out against hate and bias. 

“Sometimes you might see a swastika drawn in a bathroom,” he told the students.  “Some people don’t always know why they’re drawing it.  But it’s a sign of hate.”

Asked how his faith impacts him personally, the rabbi said he loves its rituals and the opportunity to pass them on to his children, ages 4 and 14-months.

“It was a pleasure having Rabbi Prosnit visit our Comparative Religions class,” Luis said.  “Opportunities such as these are vital in helping students develop insight and can help spark curiosity.”

“We are fortunate that Westfield’s community leaders are willing to spend time with our students in such a meaningful way,” added Andrea Brennan, K-12 Supervisor of Social Studies for Westfield Public Schools.  “Visits from guest speakers, like Rabbi Prosnit, bring historic studies to life.  Rabbi Prosnit’s presentation clarified for students how history, culture, and religion intertwine and contribute to a deeper understanding of humanity.”