Student Spotlight: Jesse Dembo, T'16

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Photo: Jesse Dembo

Thumbnail Tell us about yourself, Jesse. 
I’m from New York and am currently a senior at Duke University majoring in Public Policy, minoring in Political Science and getting a certificate in Policy Journalism and Media Studies. After graduation this spring, I am extremely excited to say that I will be working at the National Basketball Association.
I have also spent a lot of my time at Duke working with Duke Student Broadcasting and served as President of the organization last year (during which I was also an executive board member of Duke University Union). I have also co-hosted a sports talk show for WXDU Radio, participated in Club Cycling, Club Baseball, and multiple intramural sports. Additionally, I am a member of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity here at Duke.
What made you decide to have a Bar Mitzvah now?
Growing up in New York City, I attended countless bar/bat mitzvahs. But despite my Jewish upbringing, I never had one of my own. I didn’t attend Hebrew school and never really prioritized my religion. However, as I have gotten older, I have been able to realize and understand the important role Judaism plays in my family history. Having my Bar Mitzvah now is not just a way for me to learn more about Judaism and my relationship with it, but also a way to honor my friends and family who have always remained by my side.
What was the most challenging aspect of preparing for the Bar Mitzvah?
The most difficult aspect was definitely learning to read Hebrew. As a child, I had always simply memorized the prayers for various holidays. But learning to read and chant from the Torah presented new and unexpected difficulties. Overcoming these challenges has been an extremely rewarding process for me.
What was the process of becoming a Bar Mitzvah like?
The process was definitely interesting, especially going through it at an older age. I believe that I was better able to understand the teachings and lessons of the Torah, while also finding a new appreciation for my relationship with Judaism and its history. Furthermore, meeting with Rabbi Elana three times a week in the months leading up to the Bar Mitzvah really made it all seem natural and welcoming; the process was not scary or stressful, but rather, it was enjoyable.
What are you most looking forward to?
Without question, I am most looking forward to seeing the smiles on my parents' and grandparents' faces when I officially become a Bar Mitzvah. This means so much to them and I am extremely grateful that I have the opportunity to share this moment with them.
What made you choose to come to Duke?
I knew that after attending NYC public schools all my life, I wanted to go to college somewhere with a vast and beautiful campus. I also definitely wanted a liberal arts education, since I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to do with my life. But most importantly, I needed to go to a school with a huge sports culture. Ultimately, I chose Duke and it has been the best decision of my life. This university has given me so much; I will forever be a Dukie.