Supporting Jewish community, why Rutgers needs Hillel
Both overseas and nationally, we see violence and prejudice against Jews across the globe rising in number every year — with recent events like Charlie Hebdo and Hypercacher. We are seeing a time where people are once again afraid to be kippah-clad on the streets of Paris and Rome. However on a more insular and personal level, Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) measures are right on our doorsteps, with proposals being put to vote through the student government of Princeton University as we speak. Ever present bombardments of Anti-Israeli statements are constantly made on multiple platforms of publishing on University campuses that do nothing but stunt conversation between student groups. We have calls for armed uprisings against Israel, with slogans such as “From Ferguson to Gaza, Intifada Intifada!,” with recent Yik Yak messages reading “Shame on Rutgers for selling them that land” and “Why do they even need one of those,” in regards to the construction of the new Hillel building. It leaves me in awe as I wonder what could make educated individuals hate a group of people so blindly.
First, allow me tell you why I need a Rutgers Hillel. I need Hillel because it offers me the community that I was both searching for and was afraid of not finding upon coming to a school as large as our University. Hillel has been a resource through which I have made a sweeping majority of my friends during my time here and has helped me strengthen the relationships with others I’ve made outside the community. The Hillel has helped me learn more about Judaism and the Jewish community by offering me hands-on experiences, something that no classroom or textbook could ever do. I need Hillel because it offered me a judgment-free environment to voice my opinions on matters that I am hesitant to speak about in other settings. Hillel has created a place for me to feel safe in a school that can sometimes feel overwhelmingly large, that can make a person feel very small and insignificant. For me, Hillel has become a home at the University, one that I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Now let me tell you why we all need a Rutgers Hillel. The Hillel and Rabbi Esther Reed have sponsored “Campus Trialogues,” platforms in which the members of the three major monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, can put aside their differences and have a religious dialogue. We need Hillel because every Friday night they open their doors to the public and offer a delicious Shabbat meal to all University students, completely free of charge. We need Hillel because they offer free meals throughout the duration of Jewish holidays such as Passover, where Jewish students are unable to eat the foods that normal students can — a feat that will be made significantly easier when the kosher cafe and eating space is opened up in the new Rutgers Hillel the spring of 2016. We need Hillel because they work toward saving lives and preserving the community through working with Habitat for Humanity, sponsoring the Jewish social justice group Ben Azzai that raises money for the homeless during holidays such as Purim, visiting sick children at Robert Wood Johnson and hosting bone marrow and blood drives on campus. We need Hillel because they spearhead events, such as when they hosted Holocaust survivors, leading the movement to educate college students about the horrors that had taken place. We need Hillel because even though we have the second largest Jewish student body in the country, among minority groups Jews only make up .2 percent of the total human population on earth. Without community, what will the fate of the Jewish people be?
To those that claim we do not need a Hillel or that Hillel is a supporter of the controversial state of Israel, I invite you to join me. Join me at Shabbat dinner, let us eat and laugh together. Join me in attending events with guest speakers, and let us hear their stories together. Join me, and learn more about this incredible and accepting community. Join me in learning about the plethora of Jewish holidays, each with their own set of beautiful traditions and practices. Join me in celebrating the opening of our new Jewish home at the University. I need the Rutgers Hillel, but more importantly, we all need the Rutgers Hillel.
Peter Kharmandarian is a School of Arts and Science sophomore triple majoring in Jewish studies, art history and history.