This past year, Miami Palmetto High School incoming senior Seth Kessler participated in a program called Teens Advocating Together, sponsored by the NAACP and the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.
The participating teens came from across the county, from a variety of schools and social economic backgrounds. They met and talked about important issues that could lead to better communication between the two groups.
“We had about five meetings,” he says. “Every two to three months we’d meet for two to three hours.”
They were given folders with civil rights information, and information on how Jews and Blacks related. As the program neared an end, they decided on what they were going to advocate for.
The program culminated in a trip to Tallahassee with the teens advocating on gun violence, hate crimes and white nationalism.
“To me, this experience really made me see the similarities between the Jewish and African American communities,” he says. “Because of that I’m now able to understand and support our combined struggles for rights in America. Overall, the experience for me was very impactful.”
Kessler says he’s open to participating again next year. He found the program fascinating and he liked listening to the speakers they’d bring.
Since tenth grade, Kessler has volunteered at Temple Judea helping younger teens prepare for their bar and bat mitzvahs.
He works with a group of five to ten kids that are working toward their big days and teaches the prayers for the day and then goes over the prayers with them to make sure the kids are doing them correctly.
Until the coronavirus shutdowns, he went every other Sunday to help the students.
He was communications vice president of the youth group last year and now this year.
Previously he was the religious and cultural vice president.
Kessler spent a summer in Israel at the Alexander Muss High School. He loved the experience.
“It was really awesome,” he says. “You start learning about Jewish history from 3000 years to modern time. We travelled around the country the whole summer. I met great people that I am still in touch with. It was overall just an incredible experience that brought me closer to Israel, and I’d love to go back some day.”
At Palmetto he is the secretary of the Social Studies Honor Society and participates in the club sponsored free tutoring sessions held Wednesday afternoons after school when school is in session.
He usually tutors in history and social studies.
“When we tutor it can be open to anything,” he says. “Some people are focused on science or math. I’m more focused on history.”
The free tutoring sessions are every Wednesday after school.
He is a member of a History Bowl team.
“I’ve been doing that since freshman year,” he says.
That first year, his team missed qualifying for the National History Bowl Tournament, but they practiced harder so they qualified his sophomore year and were able to attend the event in Washington D.C. The team qualified again this past spring but couldn’t go because the tournament was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Kessler also qualified this past year for the National Geography Bee, which also cancelled because of COVID-19. This was the first year he took the qualifying test for the Geography Bee.
“It’s different from the normal History Bowl,” he says. “This is an individual test.”
Kessler continues as a member of the Class of 2021 cabinet. He’s a member of the National Honor Society, the Jewish Student Union and Key Club.
He wants to major in history in college, but is still unsure.
Linda Rodriguez Bernfeld