What Does It Mean To Be Jewish?
by Andrew Getraer, Executive Director
Rutgers: A Great Place to be Jewish!
Winter Break is here, 2014 is ending, and campus is quiet – except for the sounds of construction at 70 College Avenue, site of the future Eva and Arie Halpern Hillel House! If you are interested in specific Hillel events and programs, I invite you to Like us on Facebook, go to our website and subscribe to our weekly email. In this Update I want to share with you my reflections on a semester of incredible change, progress and excitement at Rutgers Hillel.
But first, let’s talk about what it means to be Jewish.
After all, a Jewish organization, serving Jewish students, promoting Jewish identity and Jewish community better have some idea of what being Jewish means. I don’t intend to write a book or even a long essay, so I’ll try and cut to the chase.
If you examine all the various works that try to explain Jewishness, whether by rabbis or atheists, by philosophers or zealots, converts or Cohanim, there is something common to all. To be a Jew is to insist that life has purpose and history has meaning, and to be part of a People eternally striving to fulfill that purpose.
Left, right, religious, non-religious, across the board, the Jewish search for purpose and mission can be summed up in two of the most common Hebrew words, which many Jews know whether or not they speak or read Hebrew: shalom and tzedek.
Even non-Jews know the word shalom, commonly translated as peace. But it’s not peace as in the absence of conflict; it’s peace as in wholeness, completion. When things are whole, not fractured, broken, or lacking, they are at peace. That is the Jewish concept of peace. That’s what we aspire to for the world!
How do we get to a world that is no longer broken, that is whole and at peace? Tzedek – justice. “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof” says the Torah – justice, justice you shall pursue.
So we see that the mission, the purpose of the Jewish People and of being a Jew is to make the world whole, shalem, in peace, shalom, and justice, tzedek. That is what underlies the values we have inherited from our ancestors, and the teachings of our tradition. That is the Jewish purpose, that is the mission and movement of the Jewish People.
There is a name for this movement. The movement to make the world whole, in peace and justice, is called…Judaism! That’s what Judaism is: the movement of the Jewish People to make the world whole in peace and justice.
Jewish traditions, Jewish learning, Jewish observance and mitzvot, all are essential because they are the means by which our movement changes the world.
If we can help our students understand that they are part of a People that have been working for 3,700 years to make the world whole in peace and justice – and who will keep working however long it takes; If we can help our students understand that this mission connects each of them to every other Jew in the world and throughout history, we will have changed everything and taken a small step toward fulfilling our purpose.
We know that this generation of young people, so-called Millennials, are both the most idealistic and the most practical generation in decades. They want to change the world and there is no organization better positioned to help them than Hillel. As I wrote in my last email, Hillel’s aspiration is to change the entire world for the better, through the inspired actions of the Jewish People. That is what being Jewish is all about.
Construction Has Begun!
Over 200 people overflowed the tent and heard inspiring words from Hillel Board President Roy Tanzman and student President Seth Deneroff. Kol Halayla, Rutgers Jewish a capella group, performed, and Chancellor Dick Edwards brought University greetings. Hillel’s Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform rabbis taught Torah together, and lay leaders Mark Wilf and Bella (Halpern) Savran shared why their families are committed to Rutgers Hillel. There was an incredible spirit.
With the recent legacy gift of $500,000 from the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County, our Capital & Endowment Campaign is now at $13.7M, toward our goal of $18M. To participate or for more info contact BuildingRHillel@Rutgershillel.org
Israel Is Our Family
Anyone who knows me (or follows me on Facebook or Twitter) knows I love Israel. Israel has always felt like family to me, though we never had family there. I am thrilled to share, however, that Israel doesn’t just feel like family to me anymore, it is family. Our oldest son, who already made aliyah, just got married to a wonderful Israeli woman, and suddenly we’re part of a huge sabra family!
At Hillel we want Israel to feel like family to our students. The Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement is driven by a core belief that a positive connection to Israel is essential for a strong, healthy Jewish identity. Just as a positive relationship with your family is essential to being a healthy, whole person.
You love your family, because they are part of you.
Israel is part of every Jew. Even when you argue, even if sometimes they drive you crazy. If you don’t have positive relationships with your family, it’s hard to be whole. That is our goal on campus, to help our students be whole Jews, to feel and deepen their bonds of family with Israel, to develop their own positive relationship to the world’s only Jewish state – and to have the confidence to share those feelings with others.
Our Newest Temporary Home
Building our new Hillel is exciting, of course, and everyone is eagerly looking forward to moving in sometime in 2016. Meanwhile, Hillel students need a home for NOW, and we have been the proverbial Wandering Jews.
Our long time home at 93 College Avenue was torn down last year as part of the College Avenue Redevelopment Project. We moved around the corner to 8 Bishop Place which worked beautifully.
Alas, last summer that building was also torn down, so this Fall we moved into a former residence at 9 Bartlett Street, around the corner from the College Avenue Student Center. We were able to renovate the old house to provide limited staff offices, a small program space and a larger program space/beit midrash. Small kitchens on each of the 2 floors are helpful and we love the giant antique bathtub in front of the porch.
It’s a great location but, truth be told, a very challenging space. It is simply too small for most Hillel activities. It’s home for now, but moving into the new Hillel House will be that much sweeter!
This Rutgers Hillel update proudly sponsored by
Frank Consulting Group, LLC
Max Hockley ’12
Small Business Consultant