Heritage Student Speaks at Lighting of the Menorah at Utah State Capitol

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Heritage Student Speaks at Lighting of the Menorah at Utah State Capitol


Heritage student Jordan G. was chosen to speak at an annual holiday event in Salt Lake City. It was the lighting of the menorah on the first night of Chanukah at the Utah State Capitol on December 6. The event was hosted by Utah Governor Gary Herbert.

Spiritual Care Director and Chaplain at Heritage School, Tami Harris, said Jordan and other Jewish students were invited by Rabbi Benny Zippel to write speeches for the event.

“Rabbi went around to treatment centers and talked to the students,” she said. “He said, ‘I want to pick one of you to speak at the lighting of the menorah with the governor.’ Some were interested, including Jordan, whose speech was really good.”

Jordan, who is 14, said he was excited to find he had been chosen just a few days before the event.

“My reaction to getting chosen was kind of funny,” Jordan said. “We had gone back to school from lunch to 6th period which is Spanish for me. I was called out and they said somebody wants to talk to you on the phone and they thought it was Tami. She said, ‘Jordan I have some big news for you.’ I was half expecting what it was. She said, ‘They chose your speech to be read at the capitol! I yelled ‘No way!’ and was out there jumping up and down. I was really happy then I got sad because I had to go back to Spanish.”

Jordan shared his motivation for writing a speech for the event.

“I got excited when I heard it was an opportunity to speak in an important place,” he said. “It’s unique and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity so I thought ‘I have to do that!’ Most of the people I’m familiar with in Utah are Mormons. It’s nice to share my faith which, in this state, is kind of different. I wanted to share my experiences, spirituality and belief with such a big crowd.”

Jordan said being able to worship in his faith is one of the best things at Heritage.

“Tami was telling us how a lot of treatment centers don’t have the religious factor,” he said.  “I didn’t know that. I feel super lucky to be here and continue to practice my faith away from home.”

Tami said the rabbi visits other treatment centers and speaks to students but at Heritage they continually do things in a students’ faith, like currently celebrating the lighting of the menorah nightly.

Seventeen people from Heritage attended the lighting of the menorah at the capitol, including all 13 Jewish students. Jordan and others got to meet the governor and talked briefly with him.

“They all got to have their picture taken with the governor and Jordan with the governor and rabbi,” Tami said. “The governor has been a part of the Utah Chanukah celebration for many years.”

Jordan said the governor seems like a really nice guy.

“He was pretty nice,” he said. “I only spoke to him briefly but he told me how his daughter used to work at Heritage. It was a great experience. He’s the most important political person I’ve talked to in my life. It’s something I will hold and cherish because I don’t know when I will get an opportunity to do that again.”

Rabbi Zippel runs the Chabad Lubavitch of Utah in Salt Lake City. Tami said he comes to Heritage twice a month to meet with Jewish students.

“He teaches them about their history, Chanukah, why keeping God’s kosher laws are important,” she said. “It’s more of an instruction time. He does that and prays with the young men. He’s very warm and loving with all of them.”

The content of Jordan’s speech, given at the capital, follows:

Hi, my name is Jordan. I am 14 years old. I came to Utah about a year and two months ago. I came here to go to a treatment center for my anxiety and depression because, even though I’d been going to therapy for years back home, it didn’t seem to help much. So I came to Heritage in hopes that I could get the help I need.

Although I hate being away from home, I feel like I am being helped. I often feel like giving up. But all my staff and peers support me and keep me going.

It is hard being at Heritage; I only have limited amounts of time to see the people I love, I live with seven other kids who drive me crazy, I have to go to school year round … and it can get annoying sometimes. But, I’m learning to deal with that.

One of the most helpful ways I can cope with these hardships is through my religion and spirituality. Whenever Rabbi comes, it makes me so happy. When we celebrate holidays, I feel at ease because I am reminded of how I celebrated them at home. I feel like Judaism connects me to the world. I feel like I can express myself through Judaism. If I am feeling down, I can pray, or talk to God, or talk to my peers, or my staff, or just pick up one of the little handouts I get when I go to Rabbi’s services and read it. At home, before I had my Bar Mitzvah, I went to Hebrew school. I also used to be a part of my synagogue’s choir. Without being able to continue practicing my religion here, it wouldn’t feel right, and I probably would have already given up on myself.

So, thank you to Rabbi, my peers, my staff, my loving parents, my friends, my brother, and to all of you. Even if I don’t know you personally, I know you spiritually through Judaism, and I know that you still care. Again, thank you.


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