Kate Kotlyar staff writer
Since its founding 30 years ago by Rabbi Danny Illulian’s father (Illulian is the current club sponsor), the Jewish Club has worked to promote Jewish values, while also providing a safe space for all students of any religion.
To continue to promote Jewish values and to provide support when Jacqueline Masjedian, sophomore Kevin Masjedian’s mother, passed away May 2020, the club started a GoFundMe in order to pay for a Torah in her memory.
“It was a great tragic tragedy for everyone in the Jewish Club because Kevin is a staple in our club; he comes every single week. We knew that we needed to do something to help out, to extend his mother’s legacy because many people told me how amazing of a mother and a person she was. [Rabbi Danny] dedicated a $30,000 Torah to Kevin’s mother that is currently being written. So, hopefully we’re creating an even greater legacy for an amazing woman,” co-president senior Daniel Rabkin said.
The club holds services at Masjedian’s home seven days a week, two times a day to support the family.
“Many kids come to his house and show support. Many kids took different resolutions of goodness and kindness in her memory, which is really a blessing for the soul. And to come visit him and to be there for him, I think is the best thing, [there is] nothing better [than being] there for somebody,” Illulian said.
The club hopes the Torah shows Masjedian “how much everybody really cares,” said co-president senior Yoni Kashanian.
“People that I wouldn’t even have thought [of donated]. It’s crazy how many people really care. Just by going on and seeing the amount of people that give donations, it makes me happy. I’m sure it gives the whole family [joy], for them to see how many people really care…It’s like a group effort now…And it’s a holy thing to do,” Kashanian said.
Rabkin hopes that the Torah will “bring remembrance” to help Masjedian remember his mother’s legacy.
“I hope that it makes him understand that his mother’s legacy will always be there. Of course, we all wish that she could still be with us, but she’ll be [with us] anytime he sees this amazing Torah in his backyard. He’ll be able to remember his mother. I don’t think you can ever be fully comfortable with a close person passing, but hopefully that’ll make them feel more comfortable,” Rabkin said.
Helping Masjedian is only one example of the club helping a student. The club also helped Rabkin discover his spirituality.
“I believed in God and I believed in my religion, but I just didn’t know enough about it. My parents raised me secular because they’re from the Soviet Union, and in the Soviet Union you were not allowed to practice your religion openly. But once I entered the club, Rabbi Danny really guided me down the path, told me so many stories, invited me into his home for Shabbat dinners, and it really helped me discover who I was,” Rabkin said.
The club “had a reputation as being the free food club,” according to English teacher and ASB director Nickolas Henggeler, which is originally what drew Kashanian in.
“I’m not gonna lie, the reason why I first joined the club is because they were giving out pizza. But [since] I’m Jewish, I might as well go learn and see what connects to me and what doesn’t, just explore and investigate. After that, I wasn’t going for the pizza, I actually liked it, I felt connected and I learned a lot. [It helped] making situations that might seem super daunting into something more happy and positive and just finding positivity in everything. It’s honestly made me such a happier person in general,” Kashanian said.
Club members feel Illulian provides a safe space for all students to talk to him. “His house has become like a second home to me,” Rabkin said.
“I have all these discussions and the club means a time for me to connect with students and be available for them. And for whatever it may be, whether it’s Judaism, whether it’s life questions, whatever it is being there for them. It’s my life. I love what I do and I live across the high school for one reason: to be there available for them. The club means everything to me,” Illulian said.
Kevin Masjedian did not respond to requests for interviews.