Eliyahu Friedman is not the type of teenager who loves the limelight. Known as an incredibly shy student in his high school, his love of camping and nature gave him the courage to start his school's first outdoor club. "I think starting the club has made me more confident in myself. Standing up in front of the student body to announce hikes was uncomfortable at first, but now it's routine," says Eli. "Now I'm known around school as the 'outdoor club' guy." Eli's enjoyment of the outdoors has spread to his classmates, with weekend hikes, climbing lessons and outdoor certifications.
When Eli had the idea to start an outdoor club, the thought of recruiting members and starting it from the ground up was intimidating. "The real challenge for me was finding students to be active on a Sunday, rather than doing things at home," he says. Arthur Poleyeff, principal at Torah Academy, recalls, "Eli came to me with the idea for an outdoor club and we didn't have anyone to help him run it. He just said, 'I'll find someone,' and he took it from there. He took the initiative and really transformed into a leader."
Only a few students showed up to the first few hikes and now the group contains core members who meet every weekend. Since its start, the club hiked in Ramapo State Forest, visited an indoor climbing gym and went on a group hike through three feet of snow.
"The club is an opportunity for students to get outside on a regular basis," says Eli. Now a senior at Torah Academy, Eli has passed along his presidency to another student for next year. "The club has added more members each year," says Eli. "I hope the incoming class has an interest in it so it can continue to grow." Eli plans to stay involved in the club even while he heads to Cooper Union College in the fall. "This has helped me become a leader," says Eli. "Maybe I'll even start an outdoor club in college." His father, Howard Friedman, says, "Teaching his classmates about the outdoors and leading activities has helped give him a measure of confidence and self-reliance that he might not have received otherwise."
The group has grown in numbers and stature, and the students are enthusiastic about possibilities – perhaps even getting a budget next year. "It'd be great to have the funds to plan a backpacking trip or a day of rock climbing," says Eli. "If the club could purchase gear like snowshoes or a few tents, it would make it even easier to convince students to head outdoors."
To learn more about Torah Academy of Bergen County Outdoor Club, visit tabc.org.