By Zachary Schrieber
There are over 2,000 teenagers at Wakeland High School in Frisco, TX, and exactly one observant Jew. Her name is Abbie Solomon. She never cheered on her team at a Saturday football game, never danced at homecoming and doesn’t plan on attending prom. “I won’t be at graduation because it’s on Shabbat,” Abbie said. “My family thinks I’m crazy for not going. But I believe that keeping Shabbat is worth more than graduation.”
And despite being the only Orthodox Jew at her high school, Abbie has managed to found a thriving JSU club, become co-president of the Dallas NCSY chapter and launch a program that will soon be implemented in Bais Yaakov schools across the country.
“I don’t want to just change who I am, I want to help influence the world,” Abbie explained.
Abbie’s NCSY career began at age 10 when she attended Camp Nageela Midwest, a summer camp run by Agudath Israel in partnership with NCSY. Her family had just begun keeping Shabbat and, as she described it, a “mostly” kosher home, following her sister’s bat mitzvah a few years earlier. As Abbie’s freshman year of high school began, she made the decision to take a few more steps in her religious journey: she began wearing tzniut (halachically modest) clothing, keeping kosher and davening every day.
“I saw people in my community running away from things all the time: school, responsibilities, even the police,” Abbie said. “I wanted to be running towards something. Seeing the beauty and purity of an Orthodox lifestyle made me want to be a part of it.”
Initially, Abbie’s parents were uncomfortable with her growing religious observance, fearing that Abbie would slowly drift away from the rest of the family. “I used to hide whatever I could from my parents,” she said about those first few weeks after returning home from camp. Eventually her parents noticed she had stopped wearing pants and was consistently avoiding foods that were not stamped with an acceptable kosher symbol. Now, years later, her parents take pride in her decisions.
“Once Abbie learns something, she puts it into action and doesn’t even think twice,” said Dolly, Abbie’s mother. Her father Ron echoed the idea: “She’s determined,” he said. “When she puts her mind to something she is going to do it. She sticks to her convictions.”
While visiting a friend in Baltimore during winter break of her sophomore year of high school, Abbie attended the annual Atlantic Seaboard NCSY concert. Seeing so many Jewish teenagers from different backgrounds inspired her. “Hearing everyone sing ‘Someday We Will All Be Together,’ was an incredibly moving moment,” she said. Upon returning home, Abbie connected with Dallas NCSY director Rabbi Michel Lomner and attended an NCSY Wednesday night learning session. Immediately, she knew she wanted more and became a regular at Dallas NCSY programming.
Rabbi Lomner quickly recognized Abbie’s talents and dedication, and asked her to become president of the chapter. “NCSY became a focal point in her life,” said Ron.
While NCSY helped fulfill her longing for more spiritual avenues, deep down Abbie knew she could be doing more to help the Jews in Wakeland High School. She realized that there was a sizable Jewish population in the school and some of the Jewish students might be looking to explore their Judaism. A JSU club — a public school club that provides Jewish teens with programs that strengthen their Jewish identity and connection to Israel — was the perfect way to attract those who had been too nervous to publicly acknowledge their heritage.
“Attending Camp Nageela Midwest showed me who I wanted to be as an individual, but joining NCSY showed me how to be a part of a community and help change the lives of others,” said Abbie. “After going on NCSY’s Leadership Boot Camp last summer, I realized I wanted to build a similar community at Wakeland High.”
Abbie’s first step was to find a teacher to sponsor the club. As she started to take off for the Jewish holidays, Abbie struck up a friendship with a Jewish physics teacher at her school, Steven Horowitz. When she approached him about sponsoring the club, he was taken by her enthusiasm.
“She’s passionate about what she’s doing,” said Horowitz. “To start a program like this from scratch is an incredible endeavor.”
Next, Abbie contacted Rabbi Israel Lashak, regional director of Southwest NCSY, and asked him to visit her school once a month to teach a JSU club. Her confidence that those Jewish students existed turned out to be true. Fifteen teens came to the first meeting, and attendance has held steady since. “Students were so excited to have a Jewish outlet that even someone’s mother came to the club’s first session,” Abbie said. “There is little Jewish life in the Frisco area, and I’m doing what I can to help change that.”
“It’s one thing to go to school and have a Jewish life outside of it. But Abbie has brought the Jewish life right into her school,” said Rabbi Lomner.
Last summer at Camp Nageela, Abbie met a group of Jewish girls from Camp SPARK, another girls summer program located on the Nageela campus. After three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and brutally murdered, Abbie realized that the tragedy united Jewish people across the world. In an effort to continue that sense of togetherness, she proposed that the girls create videos featuring inspirational messages about Jewish unity and send them to Bais Yaakov schools across America. The program, which they called “Project United Sisters,” has now been implemented at a number of Bais Yaakov schools.
Abbie is also building a bright future for herself: a member of the honors society at her school, she also works as a graphic designer for Frisco Style Magazine, a local community paper, and plans to study graphic design in college after spending a gap year in Israel. She was honored with an award for designing the winning poster for a fine arts festival in Frisco.
Although Abbie has not spent one day studying in a yeshiva, Rabbi Lashak said that the girls at the local Jewish high school look up to her. “She is their role model,” he said. “She is a very special NCSYer whom we all can learn from.”