Home Education OU helps foster, maintain Jewish faith in students

OU helps foster, maintain Jewish faith in students

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In the fast-paced and busy world of college life, students’ priorities often adjust to fit new schedules, but at Ohio University, many Bobcats of Jewish faith strive to foster their religion in the community while keeping their faith with them.

Hillel, the Jewish life organization on campus, and several other Jewish faith groups at OU, serve the campus and Athens community by building and enhancing individuals’ Jewish identity as well as spreading diversity throughout the community.

In the midst of Yom Kippur on Saturday as well as year round, the OU community ensures that students and Athens residents have a place to connect and practice their faith, as Columbus is the next closest synagogue to the area.

Bri Adamson, a peer network intern at Hillel, said the resources for the Jewish faith at Ohio University more than make up for the inability to be home for Jewish Holy days.

“Because a lot of the Athens community gets involved it feels much like being at a small hometown synagogue for the holidays,” she said. “Hillel is very good at creating a community that feels like a home away from home.”

Yom Kippur, considered the holiest day of the Jewish year, is a period when Jews are to reflect on the past year and look back on their own sins. It’s English translation is “The Day of Atonement,” and observers fast for a total of 25 hours. This year, students at OU, along with the rest of the Jewish faith, fasted from Friday to Saturday evening.

Since it can be difficult for many students to observe away from home without their families, Hillel helps to create a sense of togetherness that connects students while they fast, a practice that many agree is far from easy.

“(Fasting) is really hard. I love food, and it’s never something you do the other 364 days of the year,” said Felice Schwarz, a Jewish student at OU. “It’s a shock because your body is like ‘where’s the food’ and it’s not there. It never really gets easier.”

This year Hillel hosted an entire weekend for Yom Kippur, including services for Kol Nidrei, the prayer service on the eve of the holy day, as well as prayer services throughout the morning and afternoon on Saturday.

This year, Yom Kippur fell not only on a weekend but during rush week for Greek organizations. Rabbi Danielle Leshaw, who runs Hillel, was excited that many students still chose to stay at school for the holiday and that several women rushing sororities still wished to observe the prayers and fasting.

Because of the time conflict, Hillel ran a second Kol Nidrei prayer service at 10 p.m. Friday so that those participating in rush week could also attend.

“It allowed lots of different people to come and go throughout the day. A lot of students cycled in at one point or another to worship with the community,” said Leshaw. “It was a wonderful and beautiful thing.”

So Jewish students and community members can help each other get through the fasting period, there is a  potluck “break the fast” meal which Adamson explained is extremely helpful for students without meal plans.

“Yom Kippur can be a difficult holiday away from home in a place where not many people around you are fasting, but Hillel offers services that last most of the day that allow you to immerse yourself in the holiday rather than your own hunger,” she said.

Although there are many resources OU has for its Jewish students even besides Hillel, such as the the Jewish Women of Ohio, Hillel’s intern program, Alpha Epsilon Phi, which is OU’s international Jewish fraternity, as well as weekly Friday Shabbat services, practicing faith while at school is different for everyone.

“I do know when students come with a strong (faith) identity, they’re more likely to continue to explore and grow in that identity as an emerging adult,” said Leshaw, explaining that whether or not students choose to maintain their faith varies for each person.

“Others haven’t been afforded that (upbringing) and college gives them that opportunity…while some students have had significant religious upbringings but see college as being an opportunity to take a break,” she said.

Brice Gottesman, a senior at OU from Cincinnati, said that after coming to Athens he had to prioritize differently than when he was at home.

“I have become less religious in college for multiple reasons,” he said, citing that work and school take up most of his time. “I still go to the Holocaust speaker every year, and I hang out with Jewish friends here, but I have become less involved.”

Gottesman said despite his busy schedule that the Jewish community in Athens makes it convenient and easy to practice your faith, but that school and extra-cirricular events can still get in the way.

“A lot of the reason I (observe Yom Kippur) is out of respect for my family. Religion was a big part of my life with (them),” Schwarz said, adding that she has never missed a fast since she was Bat Mitzvahed at the age of 13. “But it’s still a part of who I am. It’s not a huge sacrifice to think of my family and observe my religion. I don’t feel like I should turn my back on it just because I’m here.”

Ohio University also is home to Bobcats for Israel, an organization launched in the 2008-2009 school year to create a community to advocate for Israel, along with Hillel’s Bone Marrow Drive, a joint effort with Gift of Life to coordinate bone marrow donations from the OU community to give to those in need. Hillel also hosts several study abroad trips to Israel and in a few weeks will be taking 14 students to Washington D.C. to advocate for pertinent issues like the two-state solution controversy between Israel and Palestine.

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