Isaac Hart, 18


Isaac Hart draws on Jewish values to guide the way he lives his life. As chair of the Intercultural Initiatives at his Reform synagogue, Barnert Temple in Franklin-Lakes, N.J., one of his proudest achievements is the “Interfaith Week” series of Iftar/Shabbat dinners he organized with local religious groups during Ramadan. “After the elections, I realized we needed to reach out, heal the tears,” he said. “I wanted these dinners to be a place where conversations with other faith groups begin.”

Hart himself comes from an interfaith family, with a Jewish mother and a Baptist father. Deeply connected to his Jewish identity and values, he had always felt a certain distance from his father — until he started to organize Shabbat dinners for his own family. “In the past, I hadn’t really embraced him in my religious life, but sitting down and breaking bread together on Shabbat had brought us so much closer together,” he said. “I wanted to expand that family experience to the community around me.”

Hart’s activities don’t end with his synagogue. Besides running several clubs at Glen Rock High School, he founded the Jewish Student Union there, which hosted a panel of Israeli soldiers and helped organize the first-ever public menorah lighting in Glen Rock. But interfaith action “is definitely my biggest passion, because it’s such a good way to bring people together,” he said. “Seeing how fragmented the country is, I feel very passionately that we need to have these conversations.”

Interfaith action “is definitely my biggest passion, because it’s such a good way to bring people together.”

Often, bridging gaps between people of different faiths is easier than bridging the gap between members of his own congregation on the other side of the political aisle. Himself a Democratic political activist — Hart interned for the congressional campaign of Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Paramus) — he believes that “there is probably a more profound lack of understanding between Democrats and Republicans than between different religions.” Through town hall meetings and synagogue events, said Hart, “we want to combat that as well.”

Scaling the peaks: Hart is a member of the Kabeyun Mountain Club and has climbed over 20 peaks, some reaching over 4,000 feet.