Hillel President Ora Raymond.
Photo by Anton Zemba.
***While we have always been told never to bring up money, politics or religion at the dinner table, sometimes it is these subjects that can lead to the most insightful discussions. Our perspectives on spirituality and religion are as different as the backgrounds and stories that we carry with us. This column will showcase students and their relationships with faith and religion in hopes of celebrating the many ways in which we philosophically, mindfully and spiritually make sense of the world around us.***
Junior studio art and biochemistry student Ora Raymond has always found herself deeply rooted to the Jewish faith she was raised into. As she’s grown older she’s found deeper appreciation for the cultural community of her faith, as well as the opportunity to help young people grow in their faith. From her family to her travels to her education, Raymond has taken the initiative to cultivate that connection more, and to share it with the people around her.
Raymond has had the culture of Judaism at her fingertips since she was born. Raymond stated, “I live in St. Louis Park in Minnesota which has been nicknamed St. Jewish Park, so I grew up with Judaism all around me. My mom is actually an art teacher at the Jewish day school that me and my younger sister attended, so she was my art teacher too. Growing up we had Judaic studies and Hebrew built into the curriculum. I also took Hebrew at the University of Minnesota in high school, and ended up tutoring people studying for their bat and bar mitzvahs at my synagogue. So when I was younger, that’s how my faith was maintained.”
Flash-forward to living in Appleton, and Raymond still finds ways to maintain the connection to her faith. Raymond explained, “This is actually my third year teaching Sunday school at the synagogue in Appleton. We’re learning about the history of Israel with the kids, but I also taught them the Hebrew alphabet. They’re all in third grade now but when I started they were all in first and second grade. They keep getting bigger! They even got me a Hanukkah present! The present says, ‘Keep calm and pass the latkes.’ I’m definitely hanging that up.”
Not only does Raymond reap the benefits of adorable presents from her students, but she also has found a deeper fulfillment in helping them learn about the history of their own faith. Raymond stated, “I love being with the kids. I feel like it’s really beneficial to be able to teach because I learn a lot from it too. Once I was explaining the Holocaust to them and some of them were just shocked and said, ‘Oh. That’s really bad.’ When you talk about things like the Holocaust with kids you sometimes have to learn to simplify things that are more complicated and try different ways of explaining things. I learn a lot about how to be a better teacher from that.”
“I’ve always been a part of this community in my faith. It’s just nice to be around people who you feel like you have something in common with,” Raymond stated. She went on to explain where she thinks that sense of community comes from. Raymond said, “People think there must be so many Jewish people in the world. But Jewish people make up less than .05% of the whole world. I think people enlarge the population because we talk a lot about the Holocaust, but it’s a really small group with very strong communities. Even though there are three main groups of Judaism—reform, conservative and orthodox—there is still a sense of community between all of us and I think it’s because we are still a minority.”
When Raymond is not back home or in Appleton, she might be able to be found in Israel where she has been volunteering the last two summers. Raymond explained, “These past two summers I’ve been in Israel volunteering on the ambulances there with the main ambulance provider. They have two ambulances — my first year I rode on the Lavan ambulance, or the ‘White Ambulance’. The Lavan has no paramedic so you’re more actively involved and you’re usually able to be talking with the patient. Last summer I rode on the trauma ambulance where there was a lot of action and there was a paramedic with us ready to help. That first year I was in Jerusalem and last summer I was in Tel Aviv. In both places I got to work with a lot of interesting religious people and a lot of bad-ass people.”
Raymond has found many more ways to serve in connection to her faith, as she is now the president of the Hillel group here on campus. Raymond explained what this role has been like for her, “I was kind of set up to be in the president’s role because I worked as the vice president starting at the end of my freshmen year, but I really love it. We just met last Friday night. We usually do prayers over the candles and wine or the bread and wine. We’ll talk, do some activities and eat. I find it really relaxing even though I’m in charge. We’ll usually have the lights dimmed with the candles so everything feels peaceful. Friday is my most relaxing time of the week.”
In all her travels and all her work, Raymond’s faith has only grown. Her appreciation for the community her religion has given her is something that she believes will exist wherever she goes. Raymond summed this up when she stated, “My faith is something I can take with me that I’m familiar with when I’m in an unfamiliar place. I think that wherever you go in the whole entire world, you’re able to find Jewish communities who will take you in and give you a sense of belonging.”
***If you’re interested in learning about more Lawrentians and their spiritual journeys, come and read their stories that will be on display outside Stansbury Hall throughout the production of Bernstein’s Mass scheduled to be performed Feb. 14-17. This opera tells the story of religion, doubt and spiritual journeys. Make sure to come and see it.***