Archive for February, 2010

Hamantaschen for Haiti

February 28, 2010

This past week, OWUJews joined together to bake Purim treats and teach our classmates and colleagues about the holiday and its attendant traditions.  One of those traditions is doing community service.   For our part, we held Hamantaschen for Haiti: A Bake Sale.

Helping out and having fun.

LOTS of hands making LOTS of Hamantaschen!

Helping one another while helping others.

Wednesday night, half a dozen folks gathered in one of the commercial kitchens on campus.  Special thanks go out to Gene Castelli and food service for giving us space and putting up with us for a 2 1/s hour marathon baking session!  We rolled out dough, cut-out circles, scooped out jam, and folded our circles into triangles to form Hamantaschen.  These traditional cookies are meant to resemble he hat worn by Haman, the villian in the Book of Esther which Jews read on Purim, but which literally translates to “Haman’s pockets.”  In Israel Hamantaschen are known as Haman’s ear.  Either way, we’re eating our enemy, at least metaphorically, for whatever that means.  We made around 200 though it was kind of hard to count, and a few were lost to the taste testers…

Friday, we hosted the bake sale from noon-1pm in HamWil Student Center.  We
sold nearly 100 cookies before the event started through online pre-orders.  A few
of those orders were from Jewish faculty and staff whom, I’d like to believe, we provided a service in helping them celebrate the holiday.  By 1pm, we had sold out.  By all accounts, the sale was a success.  After covering our costs, we made
$176 to send to the American Jewish World Service for their efforts in Haiti.

The final element of our Purim festivities was the staging of a Purim Shpiel (or skit).  Using a script I borrowed and edited from The Little Minyan, we told the story of the brave Queen with a few pop culture references woven through to maintain our audience’s attention.  While it was a little tough to recruit actors, we managed to pull together a motley cast of characters to perform for a full house during the lunchtime rush in HamWil.

A hearty Yasher Koach to all involved in what I’m sure is the beginning of a new OWUJew tradition.


Modern Day Esthers, Revisited

February 23, 2010

Last year, I posted an email I sent to OWU Hillel encouraging discussion of modern day Esthers.  Who are the women standing up to injustices in our world today?  Who are the women risking their reputations and even their lives to right the wrongs?  Preparing to write about Purim this year, I typed “Modern Day Esther” into my Google search bar.  Before you read on, try it.


Jan Lievens, The Feast of Esther, circa 1625–26, oil on canvas, 53 x 65 in., North Carolina Museum of Art

Surprised by what you found?  I was.  Somehow, I completely missed the Sarah Palin-Esther connection.  Beauty queen turned relgiously-motivated political leader.  Enough said, right?  I guess I never did this search last year since all the links are pretty much old news…

K. Bonami

The New York Times wrote about the connection shortly after Palin hit the national scene.  Apparently, after taking office as Governor of Alaska, Palin consulted her childhood pastor for advice.  “’She asked for a biblical example of people who were great leaders and what was the secret of their leadership,’ Mr. Riley said.”   The Times reported that Riley recommended she consult the story of Queen Esther.  As the picture above suggests, she took his advice.  Though some might argue the causes she champions.

So, before I go off on a political rant that would not necessarily become my role as Chaplain, I’ll let you all consider who might challenge Palin in the Battle of the Esthers?  Who are the Modern Day Esthers that inspire you?  Post your nominations as comments and let the Purim carnival games begin!

Recruiting New OWUJews

February 18, 2010

Monday, I attended my first Admissions event as Associate Chaplain for Jewish Life.  I went to meet with a specific prospect – a young man from a suburb of Cleveland where 80% of his public school classmates are Jewish.  As I’ve found in all my other dealings with prospective students, the meeting and conversation were initiated and directed by his parents.  The student said next to nothing.

His father asked, “Do you have a building?”  while I thought to myself, “I don’t even have an office!”  They asked about the programming we have and how many students attend our events.  When I told them that anywhere from 3 to 30 students attend our occasional Shabbat services, holiday parties, meetings, and new study group, the father said, “It sounds like you’re trying, but -”  The mother asked if the cafeterias serve Pesadich (kosher for Passover) food.  Again, we’re not there, yet.

Other schools this student is looking at include large state institutions.  Both have larger Hillels with their own buildings and more programming than we are able to provide at this time.  But will that guarantee that this student will participate in Jewish Life activities once he moves out of his parents’ home?

While I was speaking with this family, another prospective student came looking for me.  He and his mother were visiting from Colorado.  He had taken a few years off after high school and had already been admitted to OWU.  He spoke excitedly about the possibilities OWU presented to participate in many areas of study and activity.  He admitted he wasn’t the most religious person and wasn’t as concerned with Jewish Life on campus as his mother was, but asked me to tell him a bit about our programs.

He and his mother were both excited by what is going on in our growing kehillah.  They were excited about the idea of Jewish students with diverse backgrounds sharing traditions, asking questions, and developing perspectives about what it means to them to be Jewish.  While he made no promises, I felt nearly certain that if this student came to OWU, I’d see him again.

So what does it take to be an OWUJew?  If you could select new members for our tribe, what characteristics would they possess?  What interests and concerns would they bring?

Shabbat Yisrael

February 8, 2010

This Friday we’ll be celebrating Shabbat together at Ohio Wesleyan.  After services, we’ll be sharing a meal and hearing from students about their travels to Israel.  Coincidentally, in this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim (Sentences) the Jews are presented with a list of rules they must follow to earn access to the land of milk and honey.

Unlike in biblical times, these students may not be aware of, let alone fulfill the mandates: “Six years you may sow your land and gather in its produce.  But in the seventh year you shall release it and abandon it; the poor of your people shall eat it, and what they leave over, the beasts of the field shall eat;” or, “You shall not allow a sorceress to live.”  It’s unlikely these were requirements for the summer teen tours and intensive study programs they attended.  Those who traveled with Taglit Birthright didn’t even have to pay for their trips.  That program, offers 10 day free trips (for a fee, you can extend your stay to do volunteer work or more extensive travels) to Israel for Jews between the ages of 18-26.

I was not eligible for Birthright because I traveled to Israel on two educational trips with my peers in high school.  However, I had a few friends who went on Birthright trips after college.  They saw the trip both for what it was, a once in a lifetime opportunity for a free international adventure, and what it could be, a chance to meet and network with other Jewish young adults, specifically potential life partners.  For some, Birthright was their first extended time spent exclusively with other Jews, learning about their religious and cultural heritage, and engaging questions about their Jewish identity.  Studies have shown that these may be more lasting benefits than being in Israel itself.

When I first announced Shabbat Yisrael, I received an email from a (Jewish) faculty member concerned that I was promoting Birthright.  She fears that Birthright promotes a Zionist ideology and asked that I consider other ways to present perspectives on Jewishness and it’s relation to Israel.  I explained, as readers of this blog already know, that I am not a unilateral supporter of Israel.  I believe, however, that traveling to Israel and having an opportunity to see first hand both the good (the history, beautiful landscapes, kibbutzim) and the bad (the wall, settlements, guns everywhere) is essential to seeing the Israeli-Palestian situation as a real-life situation.  For that reason alone, I think Birthright is a great opportunity.  True, one of the primary missions of the program is to engage Jews from around the world with their brothers and sisters in the Israel.  But, this does not necessarily imply blind acceptance of the IDF stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I trust that we will hear various perspectives about students’ travels to Israel.  Some will speak simply to being in a land set aside for Jewish people, a place where Hebrew is spoken and businesses are closed on Saturdays rather than Sundays.  Others will speak about the soliders they met, people their own age who are required to serve their country before heading off to college.  And some will speak of the tragic conflict that keeps everyone’s eyes and ears always open for suspicious packages and people.  We will grow from hearing all sides of their stories.

Hillel Professionals (e)Gathering

February 4, 2010

Yesterday, I attended my first professional development event as a Hillel leader.

The event was centered around an online talk by National Hillel President Wayne Firestone about Hillel – present and future.  Hillel leaders were encouraged to gather regionally to watch the broadcast, share a meal, and have a discussion about our work.  I wasn’t that inspired by the talk but it was really nice to be amongst colleagues from other Ohio universities including Miami University, Ohio University, The Ohio State University (our host), and the University of Cincinnati.  I was amazed by the differences and similarities of our day-to-day work and challenges.

One thing I learned is that whether the estimated Jewish population at an institution is 40 or 4,000, you will never connect with everyone.  Some students never seek out Jewish Life on campus because they weren’t raised in religious homes, others intentionally avoid it because they were overwhelmed with religious obligations as kids and want to take a break.  Hillel developed a peer-to-peer program to reach out to these students to let them know what’s happening on their campus, and find out how they can get involved at a level that feels comfortable and appealing to them.  The Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative recruits affable students with broad social networks who identify openly as Jews, to talk about being Jewish with other students.  Each entrepreneur is expected to recruit a set number of students for involvement in Jewish Life activities each year, and they are paid for their time.  CEI introduced 800 new students to the Hillel at Ohio State last year.  Clearly that number does not compute at OWU, but I think the idea might be one we can build on.

OWU Hillel has a buzz right now.  The question is, how long can we maintain it on my part-time contract and the backs of a few student leaders.  We need more students to get involved, first to show up at events, but also, to get involved in imagining and planning those events.  The Ohio State Hillel is looking into a way to share their experiences with CEI with us and other smaller campuses in Ohio.  I hope some of you will join me to meet with student entrepreneurs and their leaders in Columbus once that event is planned.  I know some of you are very eager to grow the number of affiliated OWUJews, and I think this would be a great way to do that.