University of Maryland’s Jews made themselves heard, as music blasted across south campus during Maryland Hillel’s opening barbecue on Tuesday of last week. Forty booths were arranged along the perimeter of Hillel’s parking lot, as hundreds of students — both Jewish and not — explored the dozens of options for Jewish involvement on campus. In this kick-off event, Hillel tried showcasing ways to get involved while hanging out with Jewish friends.
Each year, the opening barbecue is the largest-attended gathering except for the High Holidays. Diversity was prevalent: A Terps for Israel information table adjoining a J Street booth with representatives speaking out for a two-state solution, and TAMID Israel investment groups on campus- beside Alpha Sigma Phi, a popular fraternity among Hillel attendees.
“The impressive turnout of students and number of clubs just shows the power of the diversity and range of opportunities on campus,” said Amy Weiss, Repair the World director at Maryland Hillel.
Dr. Wallace Loh, president of University of Maryland, and Eric Fingerhut, the international president of Hillel, made an appearance to welcome the incoming freshmen, and show their support for Jewish campus life. Testudo, UMD’s mascot, came out of his shell to take pictures with students, just as the university marching band arrived, strutting in their uniforms and performing a choreographed flash-mob. The evening ended with complimentary Rita’s ices and performances given by three Jewish a capella groups, Mezumenet, Rak Shalom, and Kol Sasson.
One of the booths at the event was Terps for Israel — an initiative that aims to reach out to members of Congress with the goal of lobbying for strong ties between Israel and America, as well as cultivating similar relationships on campus. When asked if he believes Terps for Israel makes a difference, Max Meizlesh, a junior at UMD and Terps for Israel leader responded, “Absolutely! Members of Congress are very receptive to college students,” Meizlesh said. “It’s refreshing for them to hear from college students who make the trip to D.C. and present themselves well.”
This year Hillel opens its doors to new staff members like Zoe Herrmann, Emily Minton, and this year’s JLIC (Heshe and Harriet Seif Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus) couple, Rabbi Ari and Shira Neuman. Although originally looking into positions as a pulpit rabbi, when he began getting offers from various university Hillels, Rabbi Neuman said, “Maryland was definitely my top choice.” Although the couple are both Yeshiva University alumni, they wear UMD’s signature colors of red, black, and yellow. Rabbi Neuman has already initiated several learning opportunities, including a weekly Sefer M’lachim shiur, with an average of 30 participants, and Torah competition which helps involve students to give thought on Halacha questions and become highlighted as the “Kollel Member of the Week.” At an especially difficult time for adjusting freshmen, the couple kept their doors open to hungry college students over Rosh Hashanah.
With 350 students attending Hillel during the first Shabbat of the semester, 70-80 men and women who stayed on campus to attend Rosh Hashanah services, 50+ regulars at the 7 and 8 o’clock Shacharit minyanim (morning prayer services), the Hillel community is never quiet.
“The emphasis of welcoming new faces in the building has really been the mantra,” said Rabbi Neuman.
Being that Jewish holidays this year fall so early in the school semester, students needed excused absences on just the third day of classes. Hillel organized exemption letters to all students who requested one; yet, students were still responsible to make up the work they had missed.
For freshmen Sandra Soltz and Shmuel Gold, Hillel has helped ease the transition into campus living.
“The Hillel here at UMD has lived up to and surpassed every expectation I have set,” commented Gold.
“I love being at Hillel,” Soltz added, “I think it’s a great atmosphere!”