Celebrating 50 years of Jewish Life on campus

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Audience members listen to the speeches given at the 50th anniversary celebration of Jewish Life at Georgetown. Photo by Samantha Cooper

Jewish Life at Georgetown is the university’s own version of Hillel. The group, which is offered through Georgetown Campus Ministry, brings together Jewish students on campus to celebrate Jewish holidays and create community. Students of other religions are also welcome to attend the events — including the one on March 22, when the organization celebrated its 50th anniversary. Nearly 200 people gathered in the Copely Formal Lounge for a celebration honoring the group on the traditional Jesuit campus.

Though there have been Jews on campus for much longer than 50 years, 2019 marks the five decades that there’s been a full-time Jewish leader on campus. To celebrate the significant milestone, said Ronit Zemel, the Jewish engagement and education coordinator, “We wanted to figure out what to do that made sense for Georgetown.”


Zemel and the two other Jewish Life leaders, both rabbis, decided to celebrate the anniversary with Shabbat dinner since “That’s when our community gets together,” she said.

Family members, alumni and current students were all invited to attend.

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The president of the college, John J. DeGioia, spoke about the history of Jewish Life on campus.

“The vibrancy of our Jewish Life community has only grown within the past five decades,” DeGioia said, “We are a stronger community because of the presence of their faith community.”


A Friday-night ceremony honored Ari Goldstein, a graduate of the class of 2018, who wrote his senior thesis on Jewish Life, and Gary Perlin, who was a freshman at the university 50 years ago and has since become a huge supporter of the group.

“[Tonight] for the first time, there is a real shared sense of community in the Georgetown Jewish community,”
Goldstein said. “[Tonight] we are celebrating the growth of the Jewish community [at Georgetown].”

Of the 17,000 students at Georgetown, about 400 are Jewish. But the population is rather vibrant and active. Georgetown also has a theology requirement that compels students to attend services of a different religious tradition and write a paper on it. So students are “really encouraged to search what their religious background means to them and what it means to be a person of faith,” Zemel said.

And that’s just one way Jewish students became more “fully Jewish” at the school, Goldstein said. They’ve learned from the history of Jews at the school to more fully embrace their Judaism.

“As Jews we do a lot of looking back at the past,” he said. “Our communal past has powerful lessons.”
The embrace of Judaism among the students has impressed many Jewish Life participants.

“To see the future of Jewish Life here [at Georgetown] is really powerful,” Perlin said. “For me to see how it’s grown is unbelievable.”

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