Club Series: Hillel Shares Jewish Culture With Students Of All Religions
Published: Sunday, February 24, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2013 21:02
Out of the 9,100 undergraduate students at our Jesuit Catholic University, it may come as no surprise that only about 200 identify themselves as Jewish. However, what they lack in numbers is made up for by various events, services, and speakers sponsored by Boston College Hillel, the Jewish student organization on campus. Despite being a religious minority, the members of Hillel strive to increase education about Judaism and spread their culture with dinners and celebrations, welcoming everyone who has an open mind and an empty stomach.
BC Hillel is part of the Regional Student Board of the Hillel Council of New England, which is responsible for connecting Jewish student communities in the area, especially those from universities in Boston with a smaller Jewish population, such as Emerson College and Babson College. The Council provides financial and organizational support, and even put BC’s Hillel in touch with their current advisor and fourth-year rabbinical student, Hillel Greene. Hillel falls under Campus Ministry at BC, and therefore derives great support from Rev. Tony Penna, director of Campus Ministry, as well as their faculty advisors, Daniel Kirschner of the biology department and librarian Adeane Bregman.
Alexander Friedman, president of Hillel and A&S ’14, estimates that the organization was established at the University in the mid ’80s, and has witnessed a growth in its presence throughout his three years as an active member of the group. Friedman served as treasurer beginning in the spring semester of his freshman year, and at the time there were about seven to eight students on the executive board, with about 20 students attending their weekly Shabbat dinners. Now, the Hillel executive board consists of 15 members—about 35-40 students come to the dinners, around 100-120 people attend their larger events, and approximately 430 names are currently on the club’s listserv.
Shabbat is the day of rest in Judaism and begins Friday evening, and the members of Hillel’s e-board provide a home cooked, kosher meal every Friday at 6 p.m. in Gabelli for those who want a way to relax at the end of the week. A little over half of the students that attend Shabbat dinners are Jewish, while the rest come for the free dinner, conversation, and the welcoming environment. The Shabbat dinners feature a brief prayer before the meal begins, but Friedman explained how students of all religions, cultures, and backgrounds are still encouraged to attend.
“The mission for Hillel is basically to engage the social, cultural, and religious aspects of Judaism,” he said. “We kind of want to educate everyone, so we do welcome everyone to our events.” Aside from the Shabbat dinners, Hillel also plans various events for the Jewish holidays, most recently their Purim celebration last Friday. Purim is a celebration that commemorates the escape from destruction by the evil Haman, and Hillel hosted a special falafel dinner for the occasion. Haman, according to the Hebrew Bible, was an advisor to King Ahasuerus of the Persian Empire and plotted to kill all of the Jews, but Queen Esther warned the king and saved the Jewish population. Hillel members also baked Hamantaschen, which are triangular cookies filled with fruit or chocolate and made to represent Haman’s hat, and delivered them to the rooms of students who requested them on the Facebook page.
Hillel’s largest events are their Hanukkah and Passover celebrations, which are both held in the Faculty Dining Room. The Hanukkah celebration features music, food, games, and raffles, while the Passover celebration is more of a traditional Seder dinner. The more religious events are held for the holiest days in Judaism: Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, a day of repentance. For these holidays, Hillel has services in the Multi-Faith Center.While some students may be looking for a more intensive religious experience, Hillel hesitates to focus solely on the religious aspect, since not everyone involved in the organization wishes to engage deeply in the spiritual realm of Judaism. To address these concerns, Friedman hopes to have Shabbat dinners with optional service in the spring, so that students can choose whether or not to become more involved in the religious component.
Other events that Hillel organizes include their recent “Schmooze with Jews,” which brings about 10 to 15 Jewish faculty members to students in the style of Professors and Pastries, as well as co-hosting speakers, such as Schindler’s List Holocaust survivor Rena Finder. Other schools in the Boston area also reach out to BC’s Hillel to coordinate events—Babson, for example, cosponsored a Shabbat dinner with BC’s members.
Some students still don’t recognize that BC has a Jewish population, and Hillel strives to change these perceptions. “One of Hillel’s main goals is to reach out, get our name out there,” Friedman said. Aside from fliers and social media, one of Hillel’s main methods for achieving this goal is through their phone bank for accepted students. The admission’s office sends the Hillel board members the names of students who have been admitted to BC and indicated that they were Jewish on the application, but have yet to accept the invitation. Hillel member call these applicants and speak with the students or their parents and give them more information about Jewish life at BC and attempt to assuage their concerns of attending a Jesuit university.