A Mensch's Guide to Campus Activism


Students say “Shabbat Shalom” at Hillel and Chabad

 Adam Palmer 
By Adam Palmer

It’s Friday night and you’re looking for an easy way to meet people, enjoy food, and maybe even learn a little about yourself. Hillel and Chabad are two organizations that offer all of these things and more on campuses across the country.

According to its Web site, Hillel – officially called Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life—is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world, providing its services at over 500 colleges and universities.

At Boston University (BU), Elise Polaner is vice president of the student board at Hillel.“Hillel is about getting students involved in different types of Jewish life, depending on what they’re interested in,” she said.

In line with this mission, the past year saw BU Hillel hosting artistic events like open mic night, social events like a fall formal and community service events like an alternative spring break program to New Orleans to repair Hurricane Katrina damage.

Chabad on Campus welcomes students of all Jewish backgrounds.

Weekly Shabbat dinners are a time for students who approach Judaism in different ways to meet and spend time together. Polaner grew up Orthodox, but that doesn’t matter when everyone sits down for Friday night dinner, she said.

“We are a really warm and accepting community, regardless of who you are or what you believe,” Polaner said.

She added that visiting Hillel helped her when she first got to college.

“At a big school like BU, it’s really hard to find yourself,” Polaner said, citing the overwhelming number of clubs and activities available to students. “Coming to Hillel gives you a solid foundation. It really grounded me in college.”

Northwestern University (NU) is much smaller school than BU, and is located in a quieter environment, but Hillel student executive board President Danielle Gershon said that Hillel still plays an important role in student life.

“Our mission at Northwestern is to provide an outlet for every Jew to find a way to express their Judaism and commit to make their Judaism a part of their life,” she said.

NU’s Hillel brings speakers ranging from author Alan Dershowitz to comedian Sarah Silverman to campus. The Jewish theatre group put on four plays last year and Hillel sponsored a dive-in movie that students watched from a swimming pool.

Hillel is a pluralistic organization, and Gershon said that the Hillel at Northwestern puts particular emphasis on pluralism.

“We really wanted to make a unified Jewish experience,” she said. “We’ve tried to make it abundantly clear through our programming and through our attitude that being secular is absolutely OK.”

On Friday night, Gershon said, students dressed in suits mingle with students wearing blue jeans.

Look what's cooking at Hillel.

Chabad on Campus serves over 100 college campuses, according to its Web site. Striving to be a home away from home, Chabad sends families out to various campuses to offer free food and learning to Jewish students.

Daniel Lorch was the president of the Chabad student board at Brandeis University before he graduated in the spring. He also had a close relationship with the Chabad rabbi and his family, he said.

Brandeis has a large Jewish community, but Lorch said that there are some students who do not feel comfortable walking into services. Chabad strives to make a comfortable, Jewish environment for these students, he said.

During Lorch’s freshman year, only about 40 students would go to Chabad on Friday night. But in the past year, about 140 students squeezed into the Chabad House every Friday.

“It’s a great opportunity to see people and get to meet people,” Lorch said of Chabad’s Friday night dinners. “Different types of people go to Chabad, therefore, it’s a way that different people connect; people coming from different environments and backgrounds that have different social groups.”

In addition to the Shabbat dinners, this past year the rabbi and his wife taught eight classes on multiple topics in Judaism, Lorch said. About 80 students were involved.

“They have some sort of a recipe,” he said. “Being open and not judging people is the idea that attracts people. People realize that they can be whoever they want to be and still learn about their religion and enjoy a Shabbat dinner.”

Posted: 10/22/2007 09:06:29 AM

Content Rating

  Average 3 out of 5


By Anonymous
By Anonymous