The Grass Isn’t Always Greener: URJ Biennial 2015

By Paulee Manich, Class of 2018
Rutgers Hillel Student Board Reform Community Co-Chair

Paulee Manich was one of six Rutgers students who attended the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) Biennial earlier this month, along with Rutgers Hillel staff member Sarah Magida, our Reform Community Educator.

Paulee Manich '18 asking a question during a session at URJ Biennial in November 2015

Paulee Manich ’18 asking a question during a session
at URJ Biennial in November 2015

There are moments in our lives that we will remember forever, moments that change our perspectives and make us understand how lucky we are. This moment came for me during the 2015 URJ Biennial in Orlando. Every two years, Reform Jews from across the United States and Canada come together for five days of learning, growing, and celebrating together. For the first time, there was also a college program that was fully integrated into the adult programming, but had separate sessions. These sessions included one-on-one time with Ari Shavit, Rabbi Rick Jacobs (current URJ President), and Rabbi Jonah Pesner (current Director of the Religious Action Center). During these sessions we had the opportunity to ask leaders in our community the questions that are relevant to Reform college students. Along with this, we had the chance to talk to other Hillel student leaders from various campuses and discuss similar issues that we share within the Reform community. It was during these discussions that I realized Rutgers Hillel is something incredibly special.

From the moment I stepped into Rutgers Hillel, I knew this was a unique community but I was also able to recognize the struggles. When I first arrived at Rutgers last year, the Reform community was small and having a hard time finding its voice in the larger Hillel community. Now, a year later, we have a thriving community that is only growing. Even though I recognize the great accomplishments of this community, I tended to dwell on the things that were not going perfectly. I was envious of other universities where Reform was in the majority and wondered what I was doing wrong because we do not have the larger turnouts to events and services that other communities do. After this weekend, however, my perspective has been completely changed. I talked to student leaders from Hillels where they are the only active Reform Jew on campus and students who have no staff support. I learned that our Reform Educator, Sarah Magida, is one of the few people in all of Hillel International whose sole job is to reach out to Reform students on campus. Along with that, Rutgers Hillel on the whole has more support staff than almost all of the other universities that were represented at Biennial. I told other students that we had a staff person for each religious community, as well as additional staff that helps to make everything Hillel does possible. Honestly, I thought that every Hillel had a similar structure to this, but after Biennial I realized that the way Rutgers Hillel is organized is something I took for granted.

After coming home from Orlando, although I was much colder, my heart was warmed from knowing that I am part of a community that has an unmatched amount of support and love from the greater Jewish community. The Reform community at Rutgers has an incredible opportunity to provide Reform students with new and innovative ways to experience their Judaism, and after Biennial I know for certain that we have the support of the entire Reform Jewish community. Most importantly, I realized that sometimes, if you’re lucky, the grass is a beautiful shade of green right where you are; you just have to take a moment to see it.

Marlee Waldman '19, Julia Motis '17 and Paulee Manich '18 at URJ Biennial in November 2015

Marlee Waldman ’19, Julia Motis ’17 and Paulee Manich ’18 at URJ Biennial in November 2015

Rutgers Hillel developed the Reform Outreach Initiative, the first program on any campus dedicated to the Reform Movement. With a full-time Reform Educator, a cadre of student leaders, and support for programming, the Reform Movement now has a voice on the campus with the largest Jewish undergraduate population in the country, to complement our staff’s Orthodox Rabbinic couple and Conservative Rabbi.

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