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Hillel eNewsletter - Volume 4, Issue 3

F&M Hillel: Making a Difference

       With Fall semester a thing of the past, F&M Hillel is reflecting on all the amazing events, Shabbats, and Holidays that we had.  With an average attendance of 88 students per Shabbat dinner, raising close to $500 for Hurricane Sandy victims, and being able to celebrate Chanukkah together, Fall 2012 was a great semester for F&M Hillel.

       This Newsletter focuses on owning one’s Judaism.  For some, owning your Judaism means understanding that you are part of something special, a community.  For others, it is as simple as having a B’nei Mitzvah, lighting Chanukkah candles or going on Birthright.  From all of us at F&M Hillel have a Happy New Year, and we are extremely excited for Spring 2013.

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Above: F&M Hillel students sing Maoz Tsur while lighting Chanukkah candles.

Owning My Judaism While Abroad       

       Having the opportunity to study abroad for a semester is an incredible experience!  For three F&M Hillel students, there was an added sense of wanting to find a Jewish community, and own their own Judaism, while away.  Here are their stories.

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Lauren Silverman ‘14:

       From the time I got to Copenhagen, I felt very comfortable and at peace here.  Sure I missed my friends and family, but the thrill of living in a new place and meeting new people was overwhelming.  It wasn't until late September, for Yom Kippur, when I truly felt homesick for the first time.  Fortunately I had the privilege of having my family visit me in Copenhagen for Rosh Hashanah, but for Yom Kippur I was on my own.  The High Holidays had always been very important to my family and me growing up.  Even at college, I made an effort to come home for Yom Kippur. 

       This year, however, I was a bit further away than a 3 hour train ride, and I was forced to create my own Danish Yom Kippur.  I wasn't really sure how to go about this, but when one of my friends mentioned he was going to dinner at the local Chabad, I decided to tag along, and I am really glad I did.  Everyone at the Chabad in Copenhagen was so welcoming and I was able to meet not only other Jews who are studying in my program, but Jews from all around the world including the UK and Australia.  After our quintessential Jewish meal, we all walked over to the Great Synagogue, Copenhagen's Orthodox synagogue.  It was an incredible building and an incredible experience to see all of these Jews come together, because the Jewish presence in Copenhagen really isn't that strong.  Seeing all of these people greet each other, catch up and schmooze, was so comforting and really made me miss my own synagogue for the holidays.

       When the service began, I realized that it would be in Danish and Hebrew, and I did my best to follow along (despite realizing half way in the middle that I actually grabbed the wrong prayer book-whoops).  Even though it was kind of hard to be away from home, it was definitely a unique experience and one that I am happy to say that I have done. 

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Kayla Berman '14:       

       My name is Kayla Berman, I am a junior at Franklin and Marshall College and I am currently studying abroad at Tel-Aviv University in Israel.  It has been a truly amazing experience and some of the most spiritual times I have had were over the High Holidays in different locations.  For Yom Kippur, I was in Haifa.  Unlike in the United States, Israel stands still on Yom Kippur.  Even during a normal Shabbat in Israel, cars still drive through more secular neighborhoods, but on Yom Kippur, the streets are silent.  The kids in Israel take this as a chance to ride their bikes down highways and long streets normally exclusively for cars.  It is quite a site to see.

       When most of my Yom Kippurs in the states were always about repentance and apologizes, in Israel there is joy and laughter and singing.   We ended services singing the Hatikva and there was clapping and joy.  It was so shocking and different than what I normally think of when I think of Yom Kippur.  Although the current situation isn’t perfect in Israel, I am still having an amazing time and look forward to returning to Hillel with an even greater love for the Jewish people and our homeland.

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Kate Ziegelstein '14: 

       What does it mean to be Jewish all over the world? What do Jewish people, practice, and customs look like outside of your home, your community and your country? These are questions that have always interested me.  Judaism is, first and foremost, an ethnnoreligious group--the Children of Israel.  We have years of Biblical history, leading us through times of displacement to wind up wherever we are today.  Due to this rich history, we have Judaism as we know it today. 

       During my time abroad this semester in Madrid, Spain and my travels throughout Europe and beyond, I have had the pleasure and the eye-opening experience of learning what it means to be Jewish all over the world.  I saw the homes in varying shades of blue once occupied by Jews in Morocco.  I spoke with students in Barcelona who had never met a Jew.  I visited the old synagogues in Toledo.  I even celebrated the High Holidays right here in Madrid.  I experienced firsthand some views that I anticipated and others that surprised me.  I am lucky enough to live with a host mother (or "señora") that is very open-minded and was eager to understand why I was fasting for Yom Kippur.  I have spoken with others who have not been so lucky. 

       Overall, this experience has allowed me to discover myself as a person, and as a Jew.  Once removed from your usual environment, somewhat similar to your first year in college, you have the opportunity to decide what type of practice is right for you and what being Jewish means in your new environment.  Personally, I have learned that my Judaism is very much interconnected with my identity as a whole.  During the high holidays, a new friend from Madrid told me that some people identify as an American Jew, while others identify as a Jewish American.  She asked which one I am.  The question here is more important than the answer; but once I began thinking about it, I realized just how important my Jewish identity is and that this remains a constant no matter where in the world I go.

Passing the Torch     

       Every Shabbat dinner, we give our students an opportunity to give a D’var Torah, a practical lesson of the Torah.  The following is a recent Devar given by the outgoing President of the Kappa Delta Sorority, Rebecca Weintraub '14.

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This week’s Torah portion, Vayera, is packed!  It starts with G-d telling Abraham and Sarah that she will have a child at the age of 100, ends with Abraham’s almost sacrifice of his own son Isaac, and thrown somewhere in the middle is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah where Lot’s wife gets turned to salt and the banishing of Hagar and Ishmael. 

       While all of these stories seem to be unrelated and farfetched, there is a thread that binds them all together.  These tales of Abraham’s life in a way are the building of a group of people, this new Jewish population.  G-d works to deter the people who may not have the best intentions, or should not be entrusted with being a member of this Jewish race.  But also, G-d tests Abraham on his dedication and trust in order to determine if he is the right person to direct this new group. 

       If you think about it, this is exactly what we do as leaders on this campus.  While we are not necessarily starting from scratch, nor are we answering to G-d (even if sometimes our Advisory figures sure feel like they are…), we are entrusted with the position of leader in order to grow and strengthen our individual organizations.  Just like Abraham, we are put through test after test to see if we are fully dedicated to our jobs.  Sometimes we are asked to do things we may not understand, which pushes us past our limits.  We sacrifice a lot in order to selflessly take on the role as the head.  Our thoughts and actions are always on what is best for the organization as a whole, and therefore bravely take on whatever duties are asked of us.  We almost put a blind faith into our own organizations, not quite sure of what the future holds.

      As I come close to the end of my term though, the interaction between Abraham and Isaac is what strikes me the most.  The story of the sacrifice of Isaac acts as the passing of the torch.  It is one last test for Abraham to ensure his faith, but it also marks a new chapter with Isaac taking the lead.  It sounds familiar to me when thinking about our own transitional periods.  The incoming president, or chair, or whatever you call it, without question takes on anything the outgoing may ask of them.  There is a trust there that the outgoing isn’t going to steer the new person astray.  For the outgoing person, they have to have faith that whatever is going to happen from now on is for the best, they are now fully entrusting the organization onto the next person.  While it may be hard to let go, this acts as our last test.  Our test to show that yes, we have worked hard and sacrificed a lot for this organization, but now we need to let go and allow a new spark in to our organizations to it into the next stage of life.  I know being a leader on this campus has been an amazing opportunity, and I have loved the struggles and privileges of it.  Now my duty is to point the next person into the right direction through both example and support, allowing them to have the same wonderful journey for themselves.

       So from one leader to another, I’d like to thank you for all of your dedication and commitment to your individual organizations and wish you the best of luck with your upcoming trade off.  Now you can safely enjoy the fruits of your labor, as well as the perks of a little more free time!

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