The Jewish Student Union: Celebrating Judaism while educating the community

The Jewish Student Union: Celebrating Judaism while educating the community

Leah Boynton

FEATURES EDITOR 

Over 60 Poets joined together to share in a traditional Jewish meal at the President’s House this past weekend to celebrate Passover. This event was hosted by the on-campus club, the Jewish Student Union (JSU), a group of students who celebrate their beliefs by educating others, celebrating important holidays, and bringing the community together. 

The club is open to all members of the community. They meet on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. in the Ball lounge. “We are a religious club, but we are for the entire campus. We have a majority of Jewish members, but we also have members from all different faiths, beliefs, histories, and traditions,” said JSU President third-year Maya Eylon. “We focus mainly on the cultural and traditional aspects of Judaism. We do this because we feel it allows us to bring together communities in a peaceful and positive atmosphere where we can learn and grow together.” 

JSU provides a safe space for both students who are Jewish and those who are not to come together and share with one another. “I was really involved back home in my temple, and when I came to college, I really wanted something that was similar to that,” said third-year Kelsey Sherman. “I didn’t really get involved until this year with JSU, and I know that was the missing piece of my life.” 

 Members of the JSU celebrate their Jewish faith and have open doors for the College community to learn and participate in their celebrations. (PHOTO COURTESY OF MAYA ELYON)

Members of the JSU celebrate their Jewish faith and have open doors for the College community to learn and participate in their celebrations. (PHOTO COURTESY OF MAYA ELYON)

For Sherman, it is a place to find commonalities and meet people who understand her in a more particular way. “They understand who you are. For me, Jewish Student Union, they understand me in a different way than my other friends do,” said Sherman. 

Third-year Jacob Shore agrees with Sherman. “I enjoy the community it brings to Whittier,” said Shore. “You don’t have to be Jewish to join us for our events, and many people join to learn more about Judaism. The club gives me a great outlet to express my religious faith while exchanging ideas and beliefs with others.”

The club allows students to have a place to express themselves away from their homes. “We hope to provide resources for students. We try to have these holidays so that students who are coming in from Jewish families have somewhere to celebrate these holidays as well as provide educational opportunities for students, faculty, staff, and community members,” said Eylon. “A lot of people don’t know a lot about Judaism. It is really important to be able to have a space on campus that is dedicated to education and awareness about Judaism.”

Club meetings focus on preparing for events that celebrate traditional Jewish celebrations. This past year, they have celebrated more Jewish holidays than any other year. These include Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shabbat, and Hanukkah. JSU even collaborated with the Claremont schools to celebrate Yom Kippur, which was the first time the club ever celebrated with another college. They have also celebrated Shabbat with a dinner on multiple occassions. To celebrate Hanukkah, they had a larger celebration and exchanged gifts. 

Many Jewish people keep a kosher diet, which is a traditional way of eating that has certain restrictions. “Kosher is really interesting on Passover because there are a lot more food restrictions than you would usually see,” said Eylon. “Basically, what keeping kosher means is eating proper foods [in regards to] the way the food is prepared and the types of food.” The Torah, the religious text of the Jewish faith, outlines these restrictions.

The Passover Seder dinner was the club’s largest event and was a great success. Turn to page eight to read more about the event, which was funded by anonymous donors. “It went very smoothly … Maya Eylon did a really good job … she was the one who really tied it together,” said Sherman. 

“I would say the majority of students weren’t Jewish, and the President attended, which was incredible,” said Eylon. “It is a very long dinner which is deeply entrenched in tradition, which was interesting to be able to bring together communities of different faith and celebrate Jewish holidays.”

“The dinner has a prescribed plan for the entire night. The dinner comes with a book called the Haggadah, which means ‘the telling.’ It’s specifically telling the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. It comes with a Seder, which means ‘order’.” The dinner has 14 steps that range from saying certain blessings over food, telling stories, and playing games, such as the game, the Hidden Matzah, where children try to find a hidden piece of traditonal flat bread. 

JSU has big goals for the future. “Before the Passover Seder, I wasn’t sure if there was actually that much interest on campus,” said Eylon. “My next goal is to, as a club, have a Shabbat [dinner] for 100 that is open to everyone … and increase our reach.” 

Eylon’s favorite part of being inlvolved in the club is providing a safe space for Jewish students to celebrate as well as educating those who have no Jewish background. She hopes to see more people at their meetings and future events. Those who are interested in more information can contact Eylon at meylon@poets.whittier.edu