Despite living in New York City for most of her life, Mikaela Gerwin came to realize that she had never had a meaningful conversation with a non-Jew. “I live between the secular and Jewish worlds, and sometimes these can be hard to reconcile.”
Feeling disconnected from her surroundings, Gerwin decided, as she entered her senior year in high school, to reach out and learn about o ther religions. “I felt the lack of culture was a hole in me personally, as well as in my school.” Easy enough to say, but Gerwin soon proved she was serious. She called 45 Catholic schools in search of a “partner” for her school, Abraham Joshua Heschel High on the Upper West Side, and found individuals at nearby Cristo Rey High School who embraced her vision for starting an interfaith dialogue club.
Gerwin’s most memorable moment in the club was attending Mass with her Catholic peers. “I could feel it was a holy moment, but it wasn’t my holy moment.” That experience convinced her that Jewish schools should make interfaith dialogue a priority, since participants from both faiths benefit greatly from the open and safe discussions.
When she’s not involved with her school activities, Gerwin can often be found volunteering at her local homeless shelter. When she returned home in 2012 after a year in Israel with her family, she found herself noticing homeless people she’d never glanced at before. “It’s something we always see, but it really shocked me.” She now sees it as her responsibility to try to make a difference in these people’s lives. “Even something that seems small to you, picking someone up when they’re down, can mean a world of difference to them.”
Floor hockey aficionado: Gerwin is currently the captain of Heschel’s girls floor hockey team. “People outside of Yeshiva league sports don’t know about it, but it’s such a fun sport, and after high school I probably won’t be able to play it anymore.”