Hillel at LU allows students to explore religious identities

By Margaret Koss

One of only three religious-affiliated student organizations on campus, Lawrence University’s chapter of Hillel strives to strengthen the Jewish community and provide Jewish students a space in which they can explore their Jewish identity. Most Jewish students on campus don’t officially identify with the religion, so Hillel also acts as the bridge between Jewish practices at home and the lack thereof at a college campus.

Senior Ilana Goldman, president of Hillel, described the group as focusing more on the cultural side of Judaism, rather than the religion, to make everyone feel comfortable.

“Most people in Hillel were not super religious growing up and just want to explore that side of their identity when coming to college,” she said. “It’s good to have that support group. I think that when you go to college, you have all these different avenues to explore about yourself, and for some reason it’s sort of weird to explore the religious part of your identity at such a liberal campus.”

In order to do this, the group has regular meetings and weekly Friday Shabbat services. The services usually last around half an hour, with prayers and discussions about different aspects of Jewish life and culture.

“Even if we don’t do a lot of prayers, just saying the Hebrew, since that’s really the only time of the whole week where you’re remembering your childhood, is nice,” Goldman said, after sharing that President Burstein had attended their most recent Shabbat service. “You want to feel like there’s a place where you can express your culture and religion and not feel nervous about it.”

Finding that blend between traditions from home and conventions at Lawrence can be difficult, Goldman went on to say.

“I’m used to being in a place where half of my high school was Jewish, just because of the area I was from. It’s challenging to be in a different environment where you’re always teaching about your religion, rather than just talking about it,” she pointed out. “I think that’s why people don’t necessarily look to Hillel. Attending things requires having to explain to your friends what it is and why you’re doing it.”

Getting involved in Hillel at Lawrence can be more intimidating than at bigger schools like UW–Madison, which has a Hillel house and a Kosher dining hall for a larger Jewish student population. “It takes a lot of courage unless you have another Jewish friend telling you to go,” Goldman said. “But I got involved because I wanted it to be a bigger part of my life, and now I’d love to see it keep growing.”

Hillel’s growing presence on campus is another element of a diverse student population, which is attractive to incoming students. “I work in admissions, and the Jewish community here is something that is important for a lot of the people I talk to. The lack of it can deter people from coming here sometimes,” Goldman said.

But Goldman hopes that people continue to participate in the growing organization after she graduates–especially since Hillel is inclusive to everyone.

“We’re planning some celebrations for upcoming Jewish holidays,” Goldman shared, “so keep your eye out for that.”