L’Dor V’Dorm Room

L’Dor V’Dorm Room

Learning from the voices of our next generation….as they try to make it to class on time.

L’Dor V’Dorm Room

UIC students give back on break

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By Leah Edelman

In December 2012, a group 15 students from UIC Levine Hillel Center, Northwestern Hillel, Loyola Hillel and Oakton Community College joined Nechama and JUF to travel to NY, as part of a mission to support the Jewish Center in Brighton Beach, which was decimated by Superstorm Sandy. Leah Edelman, a sophomore studying computer graphics at UIC, shares the story of participating in the effort.

After finishing up a semester and stressing through finals, 15 students decided that instead of just celebrating, we wanted to go to New York on a Sandy relief mission. Last month, we met in front of the Jewish Center of Brighton Beach, and listened as the Rabbi told us about the significance of the center to the Jewish community there. We were given masks and tools, and were assigned in groups to work in different rooms.

Prior to this mission, I, as well as probably some others, hadn't had much experience with a hammer. However, we adjusted very quickly and worked determinedly at demolishing the walls which were damaged from the storm. It actually was a lot of fun and I discovered I had a hidden talent for taking apart wooden boards and panels…who knew? It was also nice to see some of the locals come to join us including families with younger children. By the time it was almost dark, the place looked totally different than it did in the morning. It's truly amazing to see how teamwork and determination can produce such impressive results. 

The next day, we went to a Jewish family's house in Far Rockaways, NY, where we were greeted by the homeowner. She was overcome with gratitude when she saw all of us there ready to help out. It was very touching to see her gratitude and high-spirits, which motivated me to want to help her even more. She was so appreciative that she brought us all pizza for lunch! That day and the next were spent tearing apart walls, taking off the carpets and floorboards, as well as taking out all the appliances that were damaged by the flood waters.

After our second day of the trip, we participated in an Ask Big Questions conversation, focusing on answering the question, "for whom we are responsible?" It was really interesting to hear different perspectives and thoughts from the rest of the group.

Before I knew it, it was time to say our goodbyes and leave for the airport. The trip was such a wonderful and inspirational experience! I know the work we did might seem miniscule compared to how much work there is yet to be done, but I like to think about it this way; "to the world you may be one person, but to one person you may be the world." Every effort one makes to help out is significant. 

Even though we were just a small group of college students and we didn't help every person who was effected by the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy, we did help out with what we could and our work did not just leave an impression on those we helped, but I would like to speak for our whole group by saying it left an impression on all of us as well. This experience enforced values of social justice and what it means to feel responsible for others. I'd like to thank TOV, NECHAMA, and Hillel for making this experience possible. I truly feel like I gained more than I gave. 

To read more about and see great photos from this mission, visit UIC Hillel's Storify recap here.

Sean Jacobs, Deerfield, Illinois, 1st year Masters Student in public administration, UIC 
Overall, volunteering for the JUF-NECHAMA Disaster Relief trip was a positive life changing experience. The entire trip stuck with me to never take anything in life for granted and to be thankful for everything I have including having certain necessities like a house for shelter and my family for support. In Baldwin, New York, I was glad to help put a Jewish Community Center back on its feet along with two families' homes, one 80-year-old Hungarian woman's home and another family too with approximately four to six children. The physical demands of the work for these respective locations varied greatly from removing nails and screws to tearing and removing much of the floors' and walls' wood and other materials. In comparison to tearing and removing a lot of wood and other materials from the floors and walls, even if removing nails and screws seemed tedious, every task completed whether in the homes or in the Jewish Community Center, would help the families and the organization advance one step further to being back on their feet. I was very inspired to meet and volunteer with such incredible people who like myself are dedicated to helping other people get back on their feet. Finally, I would like to thank all of my volunteer group's participants especially Marissa, Ali, and Rebecca along with all the NECHAMA volunteers especially the full-time NECHAMA volunteers for all their amazing coordination, physical labor, and sacrifices they have and continue to make to help make this volunteer trip happen and their willingness to continue helping the Baldwin, New York and any other devastated communities get back on their feet. Just like one of the volunteers who spoke at the Volunteer Fire Station and what I ultimately believe in, "doing mitzvot for others will result in others doing mitzvot for all of you down the road in your lives."

Amir Zadaka, Plymouth, Minnesota, studying in the graduate nursing program at Loyola University. 
It's hard to describe a volunteer trip that encompassed so many different emotions. It was shocking needing to tear the walls down of a beautiful synagogue, while damaged prayer books laid out to dry on the floor above us. It was moving seeing a Jewish homeowners face as she saw how many volunteers stood in her driveway, armed with hammers and crowbars, ready to help. It was inspiring seeing so many other like-minded undergraduate and graduate students speak of tikun olam. We were very sore at the end of each day, as much of it was spent tearing down plasterboard, prying up floorboards and lugging damaged materials outside. However, I know that all of us went to sleep at night feeling good about how the day was spent. I want to thank TOV, project Nechama and Hillel of Illinois for giving us the opportunity to help make a difference in the lives of other Jews this winter break.

 

One student's Hillel experience

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By Laura Wigodner 

Jewish students at Bradley University have a wide variety of experiences with Hillel. Sophomore Rachel Vass from Northbrook has been very involved in Hillel since she arrived at college.

"I wanted to maintain my Jewish identity in college so I went to one of the Hillel activities at the beginning of my freshman year and I loved it," she said. "I always feel welcome and Hillel is a place where I am very comfortable."

Vass said that her favorite event this semester was the meeting about Birthright. She was able to hear people share stories and pictures of their experiences. She hopes to have her own unique experience when she goes on a Birthright trip herself.

One of the things Vass has learned from Hillel so far is the different ways that people practice Judaism. She grew up in a Reform congregation, so learning about Conservative Judaism has been very interesting to her. 

Before Vass came to college, she was very active in Temple Am Shalom in Glencoe. She even helped her temple start a youth group during her senior year of high school. She was only able to experience it for a year, but she hopes to bring her enthusiasm and passion for Judaism to Bradley's Hillel.

"Hopefully I will get the opportunity to be on Hillel board and I will always continue going to events and spreading the word on Friday night dinners and Sunday bagel brunches so the entire Jewish community feels welcome and knows that Hillel is a fun place to be," she said.

Coming together under the Sukkah

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By Laura Wigodner 

Working together as a group early on a Sunday morning is the definition of dedication and community.

Every year at Bradley University's Hillel, the Jewish community comes together to build a sukkah.  It's a special event that brings everyone together and calls for a lot of teamwork.

This year was no different. The day started off with bringing up all the supplies from the basement of Hillel. Everyone went up and down the stairs, carrying up the large wooden posts that make up the sukkah. The smile on each person's face, despite the heavy wood and hot sun, showed how much Sukkot means to each individual.

Emily Goldberg, a sophomore at Bradley, has her own special meaning for Sukkot. "I think of Sukkot as coming together as a community to fulfill and start a sweet New Year," says Goldberg.

Deciphering the map of the sukkah as a group proved that any challenge could be solved when you work together. Each person was given a specific job in order to make the whole process run smoothly and efficiently. One person was in charge of the instructions, one was in charge of the power drill, and several others held up the posts during the building process.

It was not all work, though. The students enjoyed chatting and laughing with each other about classes, friends, Broadway musicals and other topics while they built. The excitement each student had while sharing his or her news and ideas, along with the work of making the sukkah, was easy to see.

With organized teamwork, the sukkah was built in just a couple of hours. The final product was a sturdy structure, just as sturdy as Bradley's Jewish community. Each and every one of Hillel's events brings together the Jewish community on campus. Soon, they would gather in the sukkah to celebrate together.

"I like how there's a space that's here for us. We're always finding ways to improve our Jewish community and seek out our Jewish identity," says Goldberg.

A warm welcome

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by Emily Tuchman

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As an incoming transfer student this fall at Loyola University, I was anxious to make friends and establish a sense of community with the unfamiliar people around me.  I planned on joining clubs and student organizations as a way to meet people and form relationships.  But when my dad suggested that I try Hillel at Loyola, I told him that it did not interest me.  While I was raised in a Jewish family and participated in Jewish traditions with my family growing up, I never considered myself particularly religious.  However, after the Hillel community personally reached out to me and warmly welcomed me, my ideas completely changed. 

Before I even registered for classes at Loyola, I received a welcome email from Hillel, expressing the wish that my Loyola registration goes well.  Then, shortly before classes began, Hillel sent me a letter in the mail welcoming me to Loyola and inviting me to join the Hillel community for lunch every day of the first week of classes.  Hillel sent such a letter to every new Jewish student.  I was so pleased with the way in which Hillel reached out to me that I decided to attend one of the lunch events.  As soon as I walked in the door, I introduced myself and was greeted with a warm hug from Patti Ray, the Hillel Director.  Patti welcomed me to Hillel, introduced me to each person there, and gave me a tour of the Hillel offices.  I quickly learned that the Hillel community is welcoming to all students as well as Loyola graduates and friends and faculty from the greater campus community, both Jewish and not.

Even though I never thought I would be involved with a university Hillel group, I found myself at the Hillel events every day of my first week at Loyola.  Each time I went, Patti and the Hillel Board made sure that I was introduced to every other person at the event, so that I was able to feel like part of the community.  Even after the first week of classes, Hillel continued to reach out to new and returning students.  During the campus-wide Hillel "Party on the Porch," involved Hillel students looked for ways to connect different new and returning students with each other; and finally, the "New Student Dinner" was the last event aimed towards welcoming new students. 

The incredibly inviting and hospitable people in Hillel really helped me to form a strong sense of community and adjust to a new school as a transfer student. I am so impressed with the way in which the Hillel program welcomes new Jewish students to Loyola.  Personally, I have never felt so welcomed by a university group.  Not only has Hillel made my social transition into Loyola so much easier, but it has also brought me more in touch with my Jewish heritage.  Because I am so inspired by the way in which Hillel reached out to new students, my goal as a new member of the Hillel community is to make other new students feel just as welcome as I felt. 

 

Faith in keeping the faith

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by Nathan Evans

My hometown borders Wheaton, IL, which boasts more churches per capita than any other town in the U.S. I graduated from Glenbard West High School aside 483 classmates. How many identified as Jewish? A whopping four. A few times, we've been lucky enough to lure in over 10 students to our biweekly Illinois Wesleyan University Hillel meetings, but on average, around seven show up. My synagogue is one of only a handful in DuPage County. I spent the morning with 15 of my college friends last week. The number of fellow Yids? Zilch.

You see what I'm getting at.

I've always lived in a predominantly non-Jewish environment. No, I was never presented with the opportunity to attend Jewish day school. Days off for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were nowhere to be found on my high school's calendar. I could go on providing more evidence, but really, boiling my life down to facts and numbers fails to accurately portray my Jewish experience thus far.

Due to my ability to retain Judaism in a largely gentile setting for 20 years, many have branded me as uniquely Jewish. When telling other Jews about myself, I tend to stand out in their minds as one who must have struggled to maintain observance and, therefore, has some sort of peculiar outlook on Judaism.

Even so, I haven't experienced any more difficulty in keeping the faith than residents of communities with significant Jewish populations. I've never felt pressured to abandon Judaism nor seen reason to visit one of the hundred or so churches within the five mile radius of my house with the intention of substituting a kippah for a cross, as some have presumed. I'm a Bar Mitzvah. My extended family gets together for holiday celebrations throughout the year. I'm active in my university's Hillel (despite its low attendance rate). When living Jewishly, I don't give much thought to the obstacles potentially disrupting my ability to do so.

Perhaps my willingness to preserve Judaism is in line with my parents' adamant instruction to never be ashamed of who I am. Surrounding myself with the few Jewish classmates at my high school and university might've instilled in me the desire to stay on the Jewish path. But I think the answer lies deeper.

The capability of upholding one's faith when faced with trying circumstances is an underlying characteristic of the Jewish people. Granted, my life isn't being threatened by the Roman Empire and I'm not in danger of being kicked out of my homeland, but my Jewish experience has not been as clear-cut as others of my generation. This lack of a prescribed route is something Jews are familiar with. What's more, the Jewish people have time and again adapted to new environments without thinking twice about compromising tradition and practice. While no one Jew shares identical experiences with another, the Jewish people entire possess the strength to persevere amid adverse conditions.

So although the conditions at hand have kept me from living an idyllic Jewish communal life, I've been able to carve a religious identity that suits me. Maybe my Judaism is unique, then. But my determination to maintain it isn't.

 

More than s'mores

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By Rebeccah Stromberg

This past weekend we Lewis Summer InternsL-SIPS for shortgathered together for the long awaited weekend intern retreat. For me, it was the first time since our three-day orientation that we had uninterrupted time to just completely concentrate on building relationships amongst ourselves, an opportunity I was very much excited about going into the weekend. We managed to start the weekend off beating the rain with our intern-led pre-Shabbat tie-dye experience. It was my first time doing tie-dye, and all I needed to do was ask any previous Jewish camper to fill me in on what I had to do next whenever I was unsure what was going on in the tie-dye process.

For me, one of the most interesting parts of any Jewish retreat that brings together a diverse group of Jews is figuring out how we collectively come together to express Shabbat, especially when Shabbat can mean something different to each and every one of us. We all brought our songs and tunes to the table, and many of us taught our particular song traditions, whether they were from camp or Hebrew school, to the group.

One of my favorite parts by far of the weekend was Oneg Shabbat after eating and singing we split into smaller, more intimate groups to talk about our Jewish journeys and how we'd gotten to be here, in this room, with a cohort of other young Jews. While we had been exploring issues of Jewish identity throughout our entire internship, we finally had the time to sit down and just talk openly and without any particularl framing about our Jewish path. These conversations, for some groups intense and personal, gave Shabbat a special note of sharing and openness that lasted the rest of the night and into the next day. We stayed up late talking and playing games, had intense peer-led discussions about questions of Jewish medical and business ethics and spirituality throughout the next day, and eventually ended our Shabbat experience with a bonfire by the lake roasting s'mores and singing Havdalah songs. The American interns got to introduce the timeless camp tradition of the s'more to the Ukrainian interns, who had never had a s'more in their lives. It was this mix of informal relationship building coupled with structured discussions and times for song that made the weekend unlike any other time in this internshipa time for us to just be with each other and share common time to have common experiences that brought us closer together. 

From strength to strength: My journey as an Israel advocate

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By LEAH KARCHMER

Coming to DePaul University from a Jewish day school was a major transition. As a graduate of Solomon Schechter and Chicagoland Jewish High School, I had never before encountered any form of anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism. While I consider myself privileged to have received an extensive Jewish education, it did not prepare me for what I faced at DePaul.

At DePaul for the first time I confronted  propaganda aimed towards delegitimizing Israel's right to exist.

Throughout my years at day school, I developed a strong love and connection to the state of Israel, which remains a core element of my identity. However, my education fell short in providing me with the tools to advocate for Israel. Never before had I felt it necessary to defend Israel and, upon arriving on campus and suddenly facing this challenge, I discovered that I was utterly unprepared.

It was not long before I found DePaul Hillel and an entire network of support. Duriong my freshman year I went from being a fearful new student to an outspoken leader for Israel. This transformation would not have happened without the support and education I received from the students and mentors at DePaul Hillel.

After co-founding the first politically focused pro-Israel group on campus, I spent the year serving as President of DePaul Israel Advocates. In this position, I worked with my fellow pro-Israel students to reconstruct our campus's image of Israel. Through a wide range of programs and campaigns, we were able to demonstrate to the DePaul student body that Israel is a modern, flourishing country with a rich culture and beautiful history. Striving to expose a fuller understanding of Israel, expanding its image beyond the conflict, our group succeeded by highlighting the many contributions the state has made to the global community, in fields such as environmentalism, science, art, and humanitarian aid. 

Building coalitions with other groups on campus was perhaps the most important aspect of our group's work, as it was through these relationships that we ultimately spread our message and expanded our scope beyond the Jewish community. Reaching out to the various Indian groups on campus, we co-hosted a cultural exchange, in which we celebrated commonalities between Indian and Israeli culture, sharing in one another's food, dance, and music. Along with the ROTC, we hosted Sargent Benjamin Anthony from the Israeli Defense Forces who shared with students his experiences in combat.  With both the DePaul Democrats and DePaul Republicans, we invited a speaker to talk about the American-Israeli alliance and the ways in which it benefits both nations.

Our greatest achievement was the film we co-sponsored with the Islamic Studies Department. Attendees watched and discussed the film, Pickles, which tells the story of Palestinian and Israeli women who worked together to start a small business selling pickles. This event allowed us to have a dialogue with the Muslim and Arab students, focusing our conversation on issues of peace and cooperation across religious and cultural boarders.

Throughout my first year at DePaul, I experienced the challenges Jewish and non-Jewish pro-Israel students face across the country. Up against a well-organized force of students and faculty members working to delegitimize the state of Israel, I often struggled to balance my role as both a student and an advocate. In both social and academic contexts, from students and professors alike, I felt isolated because of my pro-Israel beliefs. However, the support I received from Hillel and from my fellow Israel advocates enabled me to overcome these obstacles and become an effective Israel activist.  

Leah Karchmer is a DePaul student and Lewis Summer Intern at the Israel Education Center.

 

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