This story is featured in the Spring 2017 edition of the HPU Magazine. Discover below how HPU’s Hillel fosters community and Jewish tradition on campus.
Every December, Sam Berg sees it in her sorority house.
It’s on a table near her sorority’s Christmas tree, an iconic image she often saw in side her synagogue, around her neighborhood and always in her home just west of Boston.
It’s the nine-armed candelabrum, the menorah, the traditional symbol of Judaism.
When she sees that, Berg feels a little closer to home.
“Most of my sorority sisters aren’t Jewish, but they’re open to it,” says Berg, an HPU sophomore from Newton, Massachusetts, and a member of Alpha Chi Omega. “They understand.”
HPU has at least 150 Jewish students, or 3 percent of the school’s population. So Jewish students like Berg connect with one another and build a community at a Methodist-affiliated school where the Hayworth Chapel is a campus centerpiece.
When they first saw the chapel, some Jewish students say they wondered how they would fit in. But HPU makes sure they do through a campus organization and the common ground of tradition.
That tradition includes organized events across campus — from the monthly Shabbat dinner to the Interfaith Passover Seder that celebrates the beginning of the annual holiday.
Then comes the year’s highlight: Hanukkah, the eight-day celebration remembering the rededication centuries ago of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
Participants play the spinning-top game of dreidel and dine on matzo ball soup, potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts known as sufganiyot.
But the dinner is not complete without lighting the menorah to mark the miracle from long ago that kept a candelabrum without enough oil lit for eight days.
All this happens under the auspices of Hillel, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world.
Berg, a double major in special education and psychology, belongs to it. She’s the vice president of events.
So does Jordan Kenter. She’s a sophomore from Atlanta; she’s the president.
Samantha Rubenstein, a first-year student from Miami,
is involved, too. She’s Hillel’s engagement coordinator at HPU, and she helps bring in new members. But she makes a point with anyone who asks about that.
“Being Jewish is to be in Hillel,” says Rubenstein, an elementary education major. “But you want it open to everybody.”
“And if I don’t educate people on Judaism, who will?” adds Kenter, an exercise science major. “There is so much negativity around us, and it’s not going to change unless someone steps up, and I believe God put me on this Earth to do that.”
The person who guides them is Ron Yardenay. Students call him “Rabbi Ron.”
He’s a business analyst for a local company that makes heat exchangers for heavy equipment. That’s his occupation.
But his avocation is working part-time as HPU’s Jewish life coordinator.
He knows how important it is.
As a high school student, he went on what’s known as the March of the Living. He saw the remnants of two concentration camps, walked the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City and visited other emotional monuments to Jewish resilience.
As an undergrad, he helped establish the Jewish Studies program at his school and wrote his senior seminar paper on his maternal grandfather, a Polish Jew who, as a teenager, escaped the Nazis only to wind up in a Russian labor camp.
Now at 28, he sees himself as a guide for students who were just like him.
“My objective is to be there for the students,” he says. “I want to help them identify how they can have an active Jewish life and foster their own personal growth. It has to be a journey, and I know I can help.”