By: Ashira Weiss
In her freshman year, Shayna Solkowitz, her three older siblings and their parents moved from Raleigh, North Carolina, to Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. Friendly and outgoing, Shayna had always been sociable, but starting High School at a new school in an unfamiliar city made things difficult for her.
In an effort to help Shayna build a social life, her parents got involved with the local Chabad and Shayna began to attend CTeen programs. It was slow going at first; being the new kid wasn’t easy. In fact, it wasn’t until Shayna traveled with her fellow teens, months after her arrival, that she began to feel like she belonged. From there it didn’t take long for the usually proactive and determined young woman to make her mark in her new surroundings.
As Shayna learned more about Judaism, she began to observe the mitzvot on her own, studying Torah thoughts in her own time. When she felt ready to implement the laws of modesty in her life she worried at first, as all teens do, about what her friends would say if she showed up at her public school in a knee-length skirt. But she did it anyway because she believed it was right and was proud of her belief.
Her pride in being Jewish brought many conversations her way from Jewish and non-Jewish students and staff. With her personable nature and her trademark friendly smile, people walked away warmed by their interaction. So Shayna kicked it up a notch. She began to make challah every Thursday and would seek out the Jewish kids at school on Fridays to give them the homemade delights and wish them Shabbat Shalom.
It wasn’t enough, Shayna wanted to create a safe space for Jewish kids to connect with each other at school, so she and her friend established Club Chai. Twenty kids showed up to their first event and their numbers grew as the weeks went by.
When COVID closed their school, Shayna was undeterred. She continued to share Shabbat candle lighting times and thoughtful messages on social media and stayed in contact with the Jewish teens she had met. Her confidence in who she is and her ability to genuinely connect with people make Shayna a role model to whom her peers and teachers look up to and turn for insight. The youngest of four—her eldest sister gets married this week—Shayna says her family is her biggest cheerleaders.
“I feel I have a mission to make the world a G-d conscious place and that gives me the courage to keep acting in a Jewish way, and sharing my Judaism with others, whatever my surroundings,” Shayna says.