A Mensch's Guide to Campus Activism


Jewish students find home away from home in tight-nit Jewish communities

 Lauren Mangurten 
By Lauren Mangurten

For Jewish college students attending campuses with small Jewish communities, it may be difficult to find a “home away from home” in the Jewish community on campus. However, many Jewish students attending campuses with small Jewish populations find a tight-knit Jewish community in which they can excel.

Carrie Rosen graduated from Loyola University in Chicago last spring, where she was vice president of Hillel.

“It was probably the most amazing, important thing I’ve done so far,” Rosen said.

Rosen said that even in her freshman year, she could tell how friendly the students and staff were.

“It’s a really welcoming atmosphere at school that really made you want to be involved,” Roesn said.

Rosen grew up in Warren, Ohio, where her family was the only Jewish family, she said. Wanting to learn more about her Jewish roots, Rosen knew she wanted to attend a college that had a Jewish community.

She did not intend to look at Loyola because it is a Jesuit school. However, when she was on vacation with her family in Chicago, she decided to take a tour of Loyola. A member of the ministry took her to see Hillel, and Rosen said she saw that the Jewish community had a place on campus.

The Hillel at Loyola has a space inside the larger ministry building, she said. Hillel has a ministry, a kitchen and an office within the building.

“It allowed us to be more connected with the rest of the university and what was going on,” Rosen said.

The campus does not host High Holiday services, but there is a Passover seder on campus, Rosen said.

If she attended school with a larger Jewish population, Rosen said she does not think she would have been as involved.

“Don’t look at it as a shortcoming or a negative but more as an opportunity so you can get to know everyone in your Hillel and so you can be involved,” Rosen said.

Rebecca Van Horn, a junior at Bowdoin College in Maine, also enjoys attending school with a small Jewish population. She was community service chair at the Hillel in the spring.

Like Rosen, she said that there were not many Jews around when she was growing up in rural Vermont.

“I think there’s something when there’s less of you [that] makes the community even stronger,” Van Horn said.

High Holiday services are a big draw for the students at Bowdoin and for the local community, she said.

Hillel has also held a seder for Passover, Van Horn said. There were about 150 students at the seder this year. On the second night of Passover, Barry Mills, the president of Bowdoin, who is Jewish, held a seder for about 10 students, she said.

Other activities at Hillel include Purim events and a Chinese buffet.

The Hillel at Bowdoin grew over the past year with help from Hillel’s Soref Initiative for Emerging Campuses. According to the Hillel Web site, the initiative provides guidance, resources and funding to campuses with small Jewish populations.

A number of Bowdoin students attended a Birthright-Israel trip last year, she said. Van Horn went on a Soref bus, for schools with small Jewish populations, she said.

She said the small Jewish population gives Jewish students a lot of say in the programming at Hillel.

“If it’s a smaller Jewish population, then you can make it what you want to make it,” Van Horn said. “I don’t think what happened this year at Hillel with Bowdoin will be the same as what happens next year.”

Ryan LeBlanc, a sophomore at the College of Wooster in Ohio, also enjoys the opportunity a small Jewish community gives him.

“It allows for close interaction,” LeBlanc said. “As far as what the [Jewish] community does on campus, you can have a lot of input as far as what course of action it takes.”

LeBlanc is the social action representative at Wooster’s Hillel this year. The type of work the social action representative does is to raise money for Hurricane Katrina victims and to help people in the Middle East. LeBlanc hopes to share some of his efforts with other groups on campus he is involved in, including Peace by Peace, a social and environmental action group, The Ice Cream Socialists, a group that researches current issues and takes action on them, and Greenhouse. 

LeBlanc said Hillel at Wooster does not host services, adding that it does plan different events for the holidays. Students can walk to a nearby synagogue.

Like at Loyola and Bowdoin, Hillel at Wooster does not have a building. Le Blanc said the different religious groups share the office for Interfaith Campus Ministries, which Hillel can use for events. When Hillel calls a meeting, it will often be in a café, he said.

LeBlanc encourages students who attend colleges with small Jewish communities to find ways to be active.

“Be involved, be creative, and stay up to date,” LeBlanc said. “Know what you can do with the Jewish population. Don’t be afraid to try new things. It’s pretty remarkable how much a small group of people can get done. I just want people to realize that and take that to heart.”

Posted: 10/18/2007 05:46:21 AM

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