My Bar Mitzvah Experiences with Rutgers Hillel
By Robert Schenker, Class of 2019
When I first arrived at Rutgers University for the Fall 2015 semester, I had no idea what Jewish identity truly meant for me. I had always felt a strong link to Judaism, but never had the opportunity or the willingness to explore what it really means to be Jewish. However, my life changed when I was introduced to Rutgers Hillel’s wonderful students and staff, in particular, Reform Community Educator, Sarah Magida. I began attending weekly meetings to study Torah, to learn, and to explore many aspects of the Jewish faith and traditions. This led to my participation in Birthright, which proved to be one of the highlights of my life. Birthright enabled me to experience Israel, a nation founded and run on Jewish principles, with an endless number of beautiful vistas and heritage sites.
While on Birthright, I participated in a Bar Mitzvah ceremony on top of the ancient mountain fortress of Masada. This ceremony was intended for Jews like me who never had a Bar Mitzvah for one reason or another. I greatly appreciated this opportunity, as it gave me encouragement to work hard so that I might become Bar Mitzvah back home, while being newly able to read the Torah in Hebrew without any assistance. In this regard, Sarah Magida helped me immensely by capably teaching me and helping me to practice my chosen verses, study commentaries, and prepare a drash (sermon) to teach the congregation.
On Saturday, April 2, 2016, during Shabbat morning services with the Reform community, I read from the Torah and discussed its meanings for the first time in front of my fellow students. I now feel I have a better understanding of what Jewish identity means, having put in the effort to learn and continue to absorb more of what Judaism has to teach. I offer my thanks to the wonderful, welcoming community that Rutgers Hillel has created for Jewish students like myself.