Alongside a rigorous academic schedule, students serve as the driving force behind many aspects of Orthodox life on campus.
Student leaders from three different universities discuss the integral role Orthodox student groups play in facilitating Orthodox life on campus.
Eitan Meisels; Columbia University ‘20; Yavneh President:
Yavneh boasts 300+ members, most of whom consistently attend our religious, social and educational programming. Our skilled Gabbinate oversees everything davening-specific, and the Yavneh Board coordinates all other communal affairs: learning, chesed opportunities, social events and our Shabbat/chag schedule. Students take advantage of our chaburot program that promotes learning in small groups about topics ranging from Talmud to Tanach. In addition to our weekly in-house Torah learning, we also host several guest speakers and a scholar-in-residence every semester. Yavneh is constantly facilitating new friendships and strengthening old ones through our many social events which range from our annual Panoply tournament to our uplifting Friday night tisches. Students get involved in the community in many different ways. Some students prefer to lead by teaching weekly shiurim, and others prefer to help prepare communal meals. New students have the opportunity to become active members of Yavneh in official capacities or simply through coming to our events. Our community is so unique because it is so large and diverse– anyone can feel at home here! Having a huge community means that students feel a real connection to Yavneh and are always looking for ways to contribute and give back. My favorite part of Yavneh is our Shabbat programming, and more specifically, our amazing Friday night davening! There’s nothing like entering a huge room filled with hundreds of students singing and dancing (including your closest friends and support system) after a long week of school.
Kayla Shatz and Shoshie Schwartz; UMass Amherst ‘20; Co-Presidents of Kehillat Hillel Ha’azinu (KHH):
UMass Amherst is home to over 2,000 Jewish students and around 50 Orthodox students. Kehillat Hillel Ha’azinu (KHH) was formally founded in 2002 as the Orthodox Jewish student group on campus. Students participate in the KHH minyanim, weekly learning programs, and the social events we coordinate. There is a team of student mashgichim that work in the Hillel kitchen to ensure the kashrut of the food. The minyanim are completely student led and even include opportunities for young men to learn how to layn and lead davening. Members of KHH often plan social events and chesed projects based on their own interests.
What is so unique about the Orthodox community on campus is that it feels more like a family than a community. Throughout each day, in Franklin Dining Commons (the home of the Kosher dining on campus), there will be a table of KHH members talking and having a great time at any given hour. Because of the small size of the Orthodox community, anyone, including freshman students, can get involved in KHH and implement new initiatives on campus.
Shaindy Stern; Queens College ‘19; President of OU-JLIC at Queens College:
Our OU-JLIC at Queens College is unique in many ways. We organize an unparalleled amount of programming each semester to support our massive Jewish student population; we ran over 60 events in the Fall 2017 semester alone!
The structure of our student leadership team enables us to create niche experiences for the subgroups that exist within our Orthodox community. Rabbi Robby and Shoshana Charnoff, Channah Cohen, and active Queens students created the OU-JLIC student leadership team in 2016. The OU-JLIC at Queens College student leadership is split into three teams: women’s, men’s, and coed. Each team is headed by a OU-JLIC educator and is comprised of five or six student leaders. Each student leader brings a different dynamic voice to his or her individual team.
Our Women’s team hosts learning and social events, many times even a combination of both. Our events range from seminary alumnae events and Latkes and Learning, to Women’s kickboxing and Cupcake Decorating and Shiur.
Our Men’s team events include a weekly Shiur Klali (in collaboration with the Women’s team), monthly shiurim, and our monthly Beer and Shiur held in student apartments. We also host an annual Men’s Ping Pong Tournament, the winner of which receives the legendary Golden Paddle.
Our Co-ed team’s social and learning events include Sukkah Wars (making sukkahs out of edible materials according to real halachic guidelines!) and Pop-up Mishmar (student-led Torah learning). The coed team has facilitated programs relating to important issues such as fertility and eating disorders.
We create programming catered towards first year students so that they can get involved right away. We introduce ourselves, educators and student leaders alike, to all of the new and returning students before fall classes begin during our “Welcome Back on the Lawn” event at the OU-JLIC couple’s home. Our First Year Women’s shabbaton takes place during one of the first few weeks of the fall semester. During our first Women’s Mishmar of the fall 2017 semester, we encouraged a first-year student to give a short Dvar Torah at the beginning of the event; since then, she has become extremely involved in OU-JLIC!
My favorite part of the Queens College Jewish community is having so many events going on that I’m never bored. I love meeting all sorts of people from different walks of life—even within the Orthodox community!