The Russian-Jewish Club as a Gateway into Jewish Life at Rutgers Hillel
By Samuel Gluzberg ‘15
My parents were born in the Soviet Union, however, I was born here in New Brunswick. My heritage has always been important to me, and within the first semester of my freshman year, I got involved with the newly-formed Rutgers Hillel Russian-Jewish Club on campus and I am now its President.
When I first heard about Rutgers Hillel, I was intimidated because I thought it would be heavily religious. Once I started going to some Rutgers Hillel events at the start of my sophomore year, I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity in religious backgrounds and the welcoming atmosphere.
Prior to last year, very few of the Russian-Jewish Club members actively participated in Rutgers Hillel, but now, more and more Russian-Jewish students are taking an active role in Jewish life at Rutgers Hillel. The Russian-Jewish Club has grown significantly in numbers since I first joined. It transformed from averaging ten people per event to having forty people at some of our larger events. We hold two Shabbat dinners and two onegs (small after Shabbat meal celebrations) each year. It gives the students a great chance to meet other Russian-Jews and build new friendships.
Along with Shabbat dinners and onegs, we hold several cultural events including banya trips (Russian bathhouses), traditional cooking events, and holiday parties, including Purim, Hanukkah, and a charity fundraiser for International Women’s Day.
For me, the Russian-Jewish Club is not only something that I’m proud to be part of, but it is my gateway into Jewish life at Rutgers Hillel. Now, I am actively involved with the Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement (RHCIE), and many of the Russian-Jewish Club members are as well. We plan cultural Israeli events for each week including cooking events, movies, speakers, and holidays. Having been to Israel twice and loving it, the events at RHCIE help me feel strongly connected to Israel even when I am back at Rutgers Hillel.
My first trip to Israel was during the summer after my freshman year through Rutgers Hillel’s Birthright program. Prior to that trip, I had not been fully invested in the Jewish community, but the trip changed my view completely. I had a wonderful experience climbing Masada, which was my favorite part of the trip, and swimming in the Dead Sea. One of the best parts about going on Birthright with Rutgers Hillel was that even after our trip ended, I was still able to connect with all of the amazing people that went on my trip because nearly everyone was a Rutgers student.
I was fortunate to visit Israel again the following summer through the Russian American Jewish Experience program. On this trip, I experienced a completely different side of Israel. We spent a lot of time in Jerusalem, learned a great deal of history and about religious practice, and I got to experience a real Israeli Shabbaton. I certainly would have not chosen to go on this trip if it had not been for my positive experience with the Birthright program.
Rutgers Hillel has given me endless opportunities and I’ve met most of my closest friends because of the Russian-Jewish Club and Rutgers Hillel. Unlike what I first expected, Rutgers Hillel is a welcoming diverse community that has allowed me to develop my Jewish identity and my strong connection to Israel.
Rutgers Hillel is the gateway for many Jews to experience Jewish life for the first time. Through the Russian-Jewish Club and the Center for Israel Engagement, Rutgers Hillel allows students to find their own connections to Jewish life and trains them to be Jewish leaders, and to share their excitement about being Jewish.
Help us continue to support our students as they develop Jewish connections, learn to be Jewish leaders, and share their passions for Jewish life.