By Ella Gorodetzky
Adam Bershad has been director of engagement and Israel experiences at the University of Maryland Hillel for a month, so he hasn’t engaged with students yet. The 26-year-old New Jersey native spent four years working at the University of Central Florida Hillel in Orlando.
As engagement associate and later as director of Jewish student life, he planned Shabbat dinners and holiday celebrations, taught Jewish Learning Fellowship classes and staffed Birthright trips to Israel.
Bershad attended school at Temple University in Philadelphia, where he was involved with Hillel. At U-Md., his job is to build relationships with Jewish students and help them develop their Jewish identities.
What aspect of your job are you looking forward to the most?
To really just get to meet the students, get to learn about their interests. My thing is, I want to make sure Jewish students are able to be their authentic Jewish selves, however they want to be Jewish. Whether that’s putting on tefillin, whether that’s going to Shabbat dinner or whether that’s not even coming to Hillel and just meeting me for coffee, and that’s their connection to being Jewish — amazing.
My position here as director of engagement and Israel experiences is similar to what I was doing at UCF, but I am now focusing on Israel. Now, I get to do Israel stuff under my title versus doing it just because I want to. So I’m really excited to be able to use my knowledge and promote what I know about the country. I’m also really excited to be running a program through Maccabee Task Force. It’s a trip taking about 20 non-Jewish student leaders and five Jewish students to Israel and the Palestinian territories and learning about the conflict from firsthand experience on both sides.
What is your Jewish background?
I grew up in New Jersey in a Conservative Jewish home. I grew up doing Shabbat dinner every week with my family, which was kind of what piqued my interest in Judaism. Eating challah and all the chicken and dips really started my love for the Jewish community.
Besides that, I went to Hebrew school, had my bar mitzvah and went to Camp Young Judea Sprout Lake and then Tel Yehudah. I had a lot of well-rounded Jewish experiences, from camp to synagogue to just time with my family.
What is your favorite food for Shabbat?
I would have to say challah. There’s so many other pieces to that, but challah is something that I could probably eat a whole loaf of by myself. I also started making a lot of challah over [the COVID pandemic], so I’ve been doing a lot of homemade challah. And I make hummus every week. I love dipping my challah in hummus, it’s my favorite combo. It’s delicious.
What is your favorite Jewish quote?
“More than the Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews,” Ahad Ha’am [a pre-state secular Zionist thinker].
It’s this idea that we have this everlasting holiday that happens literally every single week, and no matter how you celebrate it — whether you’re having dinner with your family, with your friends on a college campus, not even necessarily celebrating it traditionally, but just knowing that it’s there for you — has kept us our entire life.
So, Jews don’t always keep Shabbat, but Shabbat has kept us alive throughout the generations. That encapsulates my view of Judaism as this conglomerate of so many different types of people who are celebrating their faith in a different way, but we’re all one united people at the end of the day.