Senior Year Reflection
By Joshua Blachorsky, Class of 2015
When moving on from and looking back at the short time that I had in Rutgers, I cannot think of an institution which had more of an impact on me than RU Hillel. Over the course of my time at Rutgers, I can safely say that I spent, on average, more than two hours a day in the building. It was, in more than rhetoric, a home away from home. What then, besides for the free food, can I take away from my experiences there?
What I take away is both an appreciation for and understanding of the multiple ways a college student is in touch with their Judaism and, more importantly, how these vastly different models interact with one another. That is to say, of the many things RU Hillel has, (and soon a building can be added to this list) homogeny is not one of them. See, there is no single “Rutgers Hillel” student nor is there one single “Rutgers Hillel” community. Rather, there are several distinct communities, separated both by interests and denominations, which comprise the greater whole. Each of these groups have needs, wants, issues, etc. – The trick then is watching this all come together and interacting. It appears the model which RU Hillel has adopted may be appropriate to serve as a broader paradigm.
What do I mean?
Here is an example – on any given Friday night in the Brower Faculty Dining Room you can invariably know where certain groups of students will sit. Students tend to sit with their friends with little variation. Even the best attempts to “mix ’em up” aren’t as successful as we would hope. Yet rather than see this as a letdown, to me, this is oddly empowering. To have students on cell-phones next to students singing zemirot (songs), even if they are not in dialogue, is a huge step in the right direction. In Brower there is amity, not animosity, harmony, rather than hostility. RU Hillel allows for each student to feel comfortable with their own practices and encourages them to do so.
Another instance of this multi-voiced Hillel student community relates to Israel advocacy. No doubt this is a touchy subject for all parties as students are equally passionate about markedly dissimilar viewpoints. In fact, this issue has become contentious on campuses around the world. At Rutgers Hillel, we too have differing voices on Israel, yet the conversation is much more civil. Here is an example. The Rutgers Hillel Student Board this year, on which I was privileged to serve, decided not to hold counter protests when anti-Israel events take place on campus. However, there were students who felt, with good reason, as though this was a terrible idea. These students felt, and I’m sure continue to feel, that every insult to Israel needs to be responded to in full. I sat through many meetings where these points of view with their accompanying merits and flaws were discussed and debated. There were never raised voices nor was there uncivil disagreement.
This, perhaps, may be the solution to solving the age-old adage “two Jews, three opinions.” Let them have their opinions. Differences and diversity are not bad, nor should they be treated as such. The notion of מחלקת לשם שמים (dispute for the sake of heaven) has imbued Judaism with a decisively non-pluralistic ethos. Talmudic sages and medieval commentators celebrate this heritage of heterophony. This is not a legacy to run away from; rather, it is a legacy to celebrate. RU Hillel has provided students with the opportunity to do this.
What do I mean that this may serve as a broader paradigm? For an example ne plus ultra, let us take the Western Wall. On the first day of every Hebrew month there is undoubtedly both a skirmish and a New York Times headline as the Women of the Wall and Ultra-Orthodox men clash over how the Kotel should be used and who may use it for what. These two groups will never see eye-to-eye. These two groups will never even acknowledge that the other has valid points. Rather than find solutions which would cater to both groups, perhaps the RU paradigm of mutual respect and marked co-existence would suffice. To use the cliché, aim for a salad bowl and not a melting pot. Neither group would emerge as champion, yet both would find ways to lessen hostile intra-Jewish disagreement.
When looking back at my time in RU Hillel, I choose to see the past in the future. The model which Hillel has set up is extraordinary and its potential for good is tremendous.