About three months ago, a close friend who attends the University of Delaware asked if I would like to accompany her school’s Hillel on an eight day trip to Miami, Florida. I could earn community service hours, and have an inexpensive vacation. I thought, “eight days in the Miami sun? I’m there!” and I signed up for the trip. What I thought would be a week of tanning on the beach was actually the most influential learning experience of my life.
Two years ago, during my freshman year at Queens College, I found my passion for Jewish social justice when I started a Challah for Hunger chapter on campus, an organization that raises money and awareness for hunger and disaster relief through the production and sale of challah bread.
Weekly, a group of students gather to knead and braid dough and discuss social justice issues. The next day, the fresh bread is sold to Jews and non-Jews alike to benefit both Darfur relief efforts and local hunger initiatives.
As the lights of the Chanukah candles burned, students took time from studying for finals to help deal with fires of a different sort on campus and in Israel. Anti-Semitism, anti-Israel activities, and the devastating impact of fires in Israel all intruded on pre-exam schedules.
When protesters heckled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) General Assembly in New Orleans, the adults in the audience may have been surprised or even shocked. Many of the students in the 600-strong Hillel presence had a different reaction.
Hundreds of Jewish students will be in attendance at this week's General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in New Orleans. And these future community leaders are getting real-world training in Jewish activism on campuses across the country.
History is being made! The first woman-written Torah scroll made its worldwide debut on campus last week. The Big Easy is getting ready for the biggest onslaught of Jewish college students in its history. Two Hillels have disappeared from the map and students want to know why. And students at two Israeli universities produced must-watch videos from Israeli universities that feature air-guitaring professors, Albert Einstein, underwater camera work, roller ballet and, yes, more. They’ll make you go Gaga.
The Jewish campus community continues to address the emotional and spiritual needs of students on campus in the wake of the suicide of Tyler Clementi at Rutgers. Hillels are taking the lead in creating accepting environments for students of all sexual preferences.
The future is happening now. In Manhattan’s Union Square, typical Sukkahs get a cool, modern makeover. Shabbat in a box is being handed out at the University of Southern California. Traditions are taking on a new twist as Jewish students incorporate interesting ideas to make the holidays more exciting. Jews and Muslims are taking on a modern and mature approach by sharing the holidays with each other.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are holidays for deep reflection, confession and apology. This year, with the High Holy Days coinciding with major college football games, the beginning of the school year and other season-opening activities, students are contemplating what to do when conflicts arise – while university officials, from New York to Tennessee, are making this a season for saying they’re sorry.