August 30, 2011

Personal History: A Jewish College in an Alternate Dimension

Posted in Judaism at 4:29 pm by chavalah

Sukkot with the Chestertown Havurah, October 2003

A few weeks ago, I received a newsletter in the mail that boggles me to this very day. Was the first official issue from my college Hillel.

When I decided to attend Washington College around 10 years ago, I pretty much accepted that I was foregoing a Jewish community in favor of a creative writing minor in the middle of rural Maryland. Sure, larger schools in more diverse, urban areas offer fiction writing courses, but not The Lit House or The Sophie Kerr Prize. That, plus the incredible people that I met made my college experience rich and fortunate.

However, my one regret was that there wasn’t much Jewish life to speak of. Our big staples, a Chanukah party and a Passover Seder, were really organized by the local Havurah, and they were kind enough to invite college students. Sometimes a handful of students would attend (particularly the seder, which was held on school property), but it was mostly a “townie” event. Hillel was small and basically dormant. I served as treasurer for two years—a sure sign that the club didn’t attract many people in my day. As a senior I tried, fruitlessly, to organize a challah-baking event. Most interest I received came from my non-Jewish friends rather than the sparse members of Hillel.

Since I’ve been gone, apparently, a lot has changed. According to this premiere newsletter, WAC’s new “Program of Jewish Thought” is teaming up with St. John’s College, Princeton and Hebrew University for two annual symposia a year, new library research opportunities into Jewish studies, and a month-long winter course in Jerusalem. Whoa. I mean I was fortunate enough to take two Jewish courses on philosophy and literature my senior year, but this… *boggles*

Oh, and Hillel is getting a Hillel House in the middle of Chestertown. A Hillel House? When I was attending, there were barely enough members to fill a thimble! What’s changed? Perhaps these new programs will compel more outwardly Jewish students to my small little alma mater of under 2,000? Or is this mostly for the Havurah? Is there any way I can push these innovations back 10 years, just before I was a student? 😛

Life is full of tiny regrets…only thing you can do is keep moving forward. I’m starting a second graduate program in Library Sciences next week, with the plan of adding electives in Jewish Studies at the slightly more established UMD school. Difference between urban and rural for Jews, man.

In the meantime, I’m debating how I should reach out to WAC Hillel and the new Program. Even as an alumna, there may be ways to be involved… time permitting. 😛 Maybe my new studies could even propel me into an academic role.

To close, a hearty mazel tov to the Jewish community, student and Havurah alike, at Washington College. May these new initiatives bear fruit and bring Jewish pride to even the “cornfieldiest” parts of Maryland. 😛

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3 Comments »

  1. Ryan Kelty said,

    Glad to hear the news of our small but mighty (and growing) Hillel made it to you. We do hope those within striking distance can join us for some events this year. In particular, when the renovations on the Hillel House are complete and we have the dedication, we’d love to see as many alums and friends as we can gather for the event!
    Best,
    Ryan Kelty, Co-Faculty Advisor for WAC Hillel

    • chavalah said,

      Thanks for the info! I’ll be sure to keep checking for more news.

  2. Mom said,

    Rachel,

    Great piece! Interesting evolution over the years. Too bad it wasn’t there for you, but glad to hear of some Jews in Chestertown.


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