Parents reminisced about their college years, as they pulled past the iconic “M” at the entrance of University of Maryland, College Park, during Family Weekend last Friday. This year, UMD celebrated its 33rd annual Family Weekend, which always takes place mid-fall. Although the timing might seem somewhat early in the academic calendar, students have already attended classes for more than six weeks and have a feel for the campus and social involvement.
UMD designed Family Weekend to involve parents: “Family Weekend is an opportunity for parents to both enjoy and learn more about the institution — and the more you know about the University, the better you will be able to support your son or daughter throughout his or her educational career (familyweekend.umd.edu).”
With an estimated 5,800 Jewish undergrads, 22 percent of the student population, many Jewish families spent the weekend attending Hillel’s Friday open house, Shabbat activities and Sunday’s family brunch.
Flood warnings around the College Park area did not deter families from coming out. UMD offered a number of activities including the President’s Open House and Reception, ice cream social, family concert, and the football game against Virginia.
UMD athletics offers pre-paid wristbands for all its football games in order to include the Shabbat-observant community. Freshman Rebecca Hefter was looking forward to Saturday’s game.
“I’m excited to see my parents, show them around, and take them to their, and my, first UMD football game!” she said. The weekend’s rainy downpour ebbed just long enough for Maryland to defeat Virginia, with parents and students celebrating the victory together.
In addition to activities offered by the university, Hillel held supplementary events. Friday’s open house event at Hillel gave parents a taste of Hillel life, showcasing Sharsheret maniCURE — a breast cancer awareness event taking place on campus Oct. 29, in which students make donations and receive free manicures from professional manicurists. It is sponsored by Hillel, JSU, AEPhi, and the American Beauty Academy. Also on the agenda was Challah for Hunger; Birthright experiences, social justice; and alternative breaks, with options to travel across the country aiding in disaster relief, and international trips to Mexico, Ethiopia and Israel.
Friday night was a night of song, with a professional song leader orchestrating the Reform services, classic kabbalat Shabbat tunes in the Orthodox minyan, and a cappella performances given by Hillel’s three groups: Rak Shalom, Mezumenet and Kol Sasson.
Kol Sasson performed a rendition of “My Immortal” by Evanescence, with senior Hannah Kaiser as the lead soloist.
“I think that the main goal of music is to convey emotion and a message to the audience, and it means the most to me when my friends come up to me and tell me that our song communicated a message that resonated with them personally,” Kaiser said. “The song we sang on Friday night is especially deeply emotional. It’s sometimes hard as a soloist for me to so publicly get into a song that has such deep and personal lyrics, but it’s so worth it when I know that we’ve performed it successfully.”
“I love that Kol Sasson is so unique in everyone’s Jewish backgrounds, interests, and personalities, but we are able to join together to be one unique family,” she added.
Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of North America, as well as the proud parent of two UMD students — one graduated and one current — spoke after dinner about the state of Judaism and the Pew poll. Another speaker, Rabbi Paul Kerbel of Congregation Etz Chaim in Atlanta led a Lunch and Learn on the topic, “Things You Can do to Save the Jewish People.”
Food was prepared for the estimated 130 families attending dinner and lunch, about 500 people per meal. A gala kiddish also was provided.
Hillel provides free Shabbat meals to any student, whether or not they are on a Hillel meal plan, explained Shuli Tropp, director of institutional advancement at UMD’s Hillel. “We offer free Shabbat dinners to all our students to make sure Shabbat dinners are always accessible, which is a significant part of Hillel’s budget,” she said.
With bagels and eggs, the weekend event came to a close, as students hugged and kissed their parents goodbye and promised to call more often. For students who conquered move-in day single-handedly, they finally had a chance to show their families where they lived, while moms had a chance to make their sons and daughters beds. With the weekend over, students must transition back into “study mode,” but not without the occasional break to sample the homemade cookies in packages labeled in perfect cursive: “Love, Mom.”