F&M Hillel has had a great beginning to the school year. Our Shabbat dinners are averaging 100 students each week, we have 15 students going to Israel this Winter, and our Jewish Engagement Fellows are getting out there meeting lots of new students.
This Newsletter focuses on students at F&M owning their own Judaism as well as how F&M Hillel impacts all students, Jewish and non-Jewish, on campus.
Above: President Daniel Porterfield poses with students at F&M Hillel
For students who come from a strong Jewish background, maintaining a Jewish identity at college can be difficult. For first-year students Gaby Joseph, Julia Fleisch, and Arianna Solodar-Wincele, this task was made easier through recognizing their options:
“It was the end of our first week of the semester and the feeling of relief swept over us as we had made it through our first college classes. What plans were we going to make for Friday night? Suddenly the prospect of having a choice in the matter loomed upon us. For the first time ever, having Shabbat dinner was not our only option. We could eat some easy mac in our room, go to D-hall with the rest of the school or we could take our first steps in joining a new Jewish community at F&M Hillel. For us, the decision was pretty clear. We now had the opportunity to embrace our Judaism by using the inspiration of our Jewish upbringings to allow us to enjoy the new customs and ruach that awaited us at F&M Hillel.
The reality of becoming Jewish individuals manifested itself this Sukkot. We made the decision to shake the Lulav and Etrog on our own, an act we would never have thought twice about had we been at home. It gave a new significance to the action. Even an act this small helped reaffirm our Jewish identities. Every detail oriented ritual serves to make us think about what the holiday means and how we see ourselves within the context of Judaism. We are lucky to be in a place where we can choose to practice the way we like. The opportunity to perform the seemingly smallest of rituals is available to us to benefit from.”
Above: Students working together to build the F&M Hillel Sukkah
F&M Hillel welcomes all students. Many non-Jewish students utilize Hillel as an opportunity to learn, experience, and explore a culture other than their own. Molly Ferrer ’13 and Adelaide Bullock ’13 are two such students:
“The first Hillel event we went to was a Friday night Shabbat dinner. Walking in, we were nervous that we would stand out not knowing any of the traditions or prayers. After seeing some friendly faces, our nerves were eased and we were able to sing along to the prayers using the programs on the table. As we sat at our table witnessing everyone’s excitement to sing the prayers and eat the sprinkled Challah, we knew there was more to Shabbat than a religious meal. Amongst these tables in the Klehr Center for Jewish Life sat a true Franklin and Marshall family.
We were amazed to see that so many people from different parts of the world and walks of life could come together with a common ground and sing the same Hebrew tunes that have lasted for thousands of years. The strength of tradition in the Jewish faith was apparent. Everyone was so welcoming and open minded to teaching newcomers about the Jewish faith, that we gained an excitement for learning more. Every week we have come back to Hillel to learn more about Jewish traditions, Torah portions, and songs. Dean Taber began to recognize us and encourage our attendance and participation. In time, we found ourselves singing along enthusiastically and getting excited to say “Shabbat Shalom” to our new Hillel friends. We started attending more Hillel events including Oscar viewings, Tie Dying, Bagel Brunches, and Finals Study Break, and before we knew it, we felt like we had become part of the family we admired so much.
The passion for Judaism that Hillel instilled in us has fueled us to try to find more ways to incorporate Judaism into our own lives so that our learning can continue after we graduate in the Spring. We will never forget our first time braiding challah at Hillel, and will surely continue to learn all of the steps to making a fun and meaningful weekly gathering. Every time we go to the Klehr Center, regardless of the occasion, we know we will be met with open arms from Dean Taber and the rest of our Hillel family. Even though we will soon be graduating and leaving F&M behind, we know that Hillel will always be a home for us to return to, and we will always be grateful for its friendships and inspirations.”
Above: Yum! Some students enjoying our off-campus trip to get FroYo!
Every Friday night, before Shabbat dinner, Hillel offers our students an opportunity to give a Devar Torah, a sort of practical lesson of the Torah. The following are two Devars recently given by two of our students:
Hannah Rosenberg ‘15:
“Hi everyone, I’m Hannah Nicole Rosenberg and I’m the Secretary here at Hillel. This week’s Torah Parsha is Vayelech, describing how G-d asked Moses to gather the people of Israel so he could publically pass down his leadership role to Joshua. Moses tells the people, “He will be with you; He will not fail you or forsake you. Fear not and do not be dismayed”.
This portion shows how to transfer leadership roles successfully. It helps that Joshua was chosen by G-d, not appointed by Moses or elected by the Israelites. Joshua was also Moses’ right-hand man and well known by the people. Joshua defeated the tribe of Amal-ek, guarded the Tabernacle, and did not fear entering the land of Canaan, unlike the other spies. Despite his successes, Joshua remained humble and supportive not only to Moses, but to the people as well. He wished to serve G-d and the community, and saw his service as a privilege rather than an opportunity to further himself. And finally, Moses made a public announcement to all the people so there was no dispute or question over who would take his place.
On behalf of Hillel, we appreciate President Porterfield’s attendance at our Shabbat this evening. President Porterfield is at a disadvantage because, unlike Joshua, he was not appointed by G-d. Nonetheless, Dr. Porterfield has shown us many of the qualities necessary to be a good leader, just like Joshua. He understands the students and encourages the success of everyone, as shown by his presence here tonight. He advocates the mission of a liberal arts college and is always available to listen to students (and armed with ice cream sandwiches, of course!). So while we’re not expecting you to lead us to the Promise Land, we appreciate the good job so far. Thank you all for coming, and I hope everyone has a restful weekend. Shabbat Shalom!”
Sarah Rothman ‘15:
“Hi everyone, my name is Sarah Rothman. This week we celebrated Simchat Torah, which marks the conclusion of the annual cycle of the Torah reading and the beginning of a new cycle. Thus we read the end of Deuteronomy (D’varim) and the beginning of Genesis (B’reishit).
Let’s look at B’reishit: the beginning. It’s the portion everyone seems to know the most about: in the beginning, G-d created the Heaven and the Earth. In just six days, our world was put together, piece by piece, and each one is declared “good”. On the seventh day G-d rested, the inaugural Sabbath, the origin of the commandment we are all currently fulfilling, and the reason we are here together tonight.
It’s a wonderful beginning - full of promise, as most beginnings are. Anything is possible, and all the good times are ahead waiting to be had. Yet the parshah ends on a sour note. We begin with light from darkness, sky and land from water, woman from man. All in an idyllic garden. But then as we continue to read, we encounter expulsion, thorns, pain, and murder between brothers. By the end, the beautiful Eden is gone, and G-d is so upset by the wickedness of man that G-d decides to wipe out the world that had such potential to be good. Where did things go wrong?
Certain parts of the creation story have become biblical icons: the rib, the snake, the apple. Hidden among these familiar landmarks is a sentence that is somewhat overlooked, and perhaps that’s the cause of the problem.
Genesis Chapter 2 Verse 15:
The Lord G-d took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden, to till it and tend it.
To till it and tend it. The commentary in the Etz Hayim points out that from the outset G-d intended humans to be farmers and work the soil. We may have been given a paradise, and we may rely on blessings from Heaven, such as favorable weather, but this does not exempt us from putting in effort and taking responsibility for our world. In the beginning, when everything was so wonderful, humans did not take responsibility for their actions, for themselves, or for their family. Eve blames the snake, and Adam blames Eve. Even worse, in Genesis Chapter 4 Verse 9, after Cain killed Abel, The Lord said to Cain,
"Where is your brother Abel?" And he said, "I do not know. Am I my brother's keeper?"
From here on out things really go down the drain, until G-d decides that everything must go, and we see the plan of Noah and the flood unfold.
Presumably, G-d could have created a maintenance-free world, but decided that it would be better for us to take responsibility and to work. Perhaps this is because we tend to value something more when we have invested our own labor in it.
We are so blessed to be at F&M. We are surrounded by passionate professors, enveloped in a safe and beautiful campus, and given countless opportunities to learn, to lead, and to volunteer. It is not enough to sit idly by. We need to be active participants, to till and tend our education and our community. Perhaps instead of scolding Eve for her disobedience, we should thank her for showing us that if we want knowledge, we must reach out and take it. Take the apple, take the risk, take the initiative, take action. Shabbat Shalom.”
Above: The Rumspringas performing improv comedy at Hillel's Weekly Cafe