Palmer Trinity School junior Elliott Harris spent six weeks this summer attending high school. He didn’t mind because he was going to the Alexander Muss High School in Israel. Those six weeks changed his world.
“I feel more accepting and tolerant and I feel like I’ve created a bond not only with my religion, but with my friends, and even my friends who aren’t even religious or Jewish,” he says. “It felt like adding members to my family.”
What was the best part of the trip? Harris says it was climbing Mt. Masada at three in the morning to watch the sun rise and say morning prayers.
The summer learning program was a contrast from how he spent the summer of 2011. That summer he worked as a camp counselor at Concordia Lutheran Church.
“It was very cool. It’s cool to volunteer in all areas of the spectrum,” he says. “Even though half my family is Christian, I’ve never spent a lot of time at church.”
He helped by setting up for lunch, getting the kids prepared to go to the pool and assisting in the classroom.
“I think a lot of little kids like me for some reason,” he says. “It’s always happy hanging out with children. They are not like boring adults or grumpy teenagers. They are fun to deal with as people.”
Harris enjoyed the time he spent with the children.
“It kind of reminded me of my childhood,” he says. “I was doing things I hadn’t done since I was their age.”
From the experience, he learned patience and how to stay calm when everything around him was chaotic.
“Once you know them better, they start becoming your friend,” Harris says. “Once you are their friend, they are not acting out as much.”
In accordance with his Jewish heritage, Harris belongs to the youth group at Beth Am. He also attends classes on Monday night to learn more about his heritage.
“We learn and we talk about topics in Judaism,” he says. “With Beth Am I also went to Washington, DC to send letters and to the senators and congress of Florida on local Florida issues. We were asking the Republican senator what he was going to do about climate change and the affects that we’re having.”
At Palmer Trinity, Harris is a member of the Jewish Culture Club. The club hosts bakes sales to raise money to donate to charities. The members participate in community service, but the club’s main function is awareness and discussion about Jewish Culture.
He also plays percussion in the band and the Drum Line. He’s been playing drums since he was in the fifth grade when he was a part of a garage band. In sixth grade he took his talent to the school band.
Along with being in the band, Harris is also an athlete, competing for the Palmer wrestling team.
“We’ve had two seasons. In the second season there were like five people on the team,” Harris says. “It’s a small school and it’s the newest program.”
The first year he wrestled at 130 pounds; last year he was in the 140-pound weight category and this year he’s considered 150- pound, unless he decides to lose weight.
He was one of the first members of the team that was started when he was in ninth grade. “It was a year of a lot of firsts,” he says.
“It was the first year of the jazz band, the Jewish Culture Club and wrestling, and I was a part of all three.”
By Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld