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The Jewish Experience

A few weeks ago, I believe the date was February 19th, I attended a University event entitled “Diversity Dialogue: The Jewish Experience.? This was held by a number of students, professors, and other Jewish University employees that have organized and are members of Hillel: The Jewish Student Center that is located right on University Avenue. They are a registered student organization and their mission is “To provide social, cultural, educational, social action and Israel related programs and opportunities to Jewish students at the University of Minnesota as well as provide educational opportunities about Judaism to the non-Jewish population.?
The group of students and professors that joined this discussion group was very diverse; there were people of different race, gender, and age. I wouldn’t want to even attempt to address the other societal differences in fear of assuming something incorrectly, and so I’ll leave it at that. About 30 people gathered in this small room in Piek Hall and everyone was very reserved at first, including myself.

The two main speakers were both Jewish students here on campus. One was a Reformed Jew and the other an Orthodox Jew. Speaking about the major differences in the different types of Judaism had me realizing that I really knew nothing about this religion or culture. I walked into it thinking I understand the basis of their traditions and beliefs, but I definitely found myself being completely wrong on a lot of the topics that hey touched on. I found it very interesting that there are only three Orthodox Jews here on campus, at least as far as students who are open about their religious affiliations goes.

There were a lot of topics that the two speakers spoke on, including clothing attire, holidays, modesty, racial issues, and a lot of discussion on what Shabbat really is. The Hillel Center even hold an open Shabbat every Friday night and anyone is welcome to come by and experience that.

The difference in the clothing that the different types of Jews wear is based on a rule of modesty. Especially for Orthodox Jews, the rules are even stricter. Although, I wouldn’t necessarily say that they think they are strict, but it’s their way of holding this modesty. Orthodox Jews are not allowed to touch anyone and vice versa. I had heard about this practice, but I had never actually put it together with it being only an Orthodox Jew. This was the first point that I realized I really did not know anything about their traditions.

Also, Hanukkah is probably the only Jewish holiday I recognize in the calendar year, but I found out that to the Jewish community it’s not the most important holiday, but it just happens to be the most commercialized.
I was curious, and ended up asking a fairly controversial question: “I saw a bus last summer that had “Jews for Jesus? painted on the side of it, what is the significance of this?? This was asked just after a discussion between a couple of Muslim students and the Jewish students discussing the similarities and differences in religion and culture. Well, I sort of got laughed at, and I was a little embarrassed. According to one of the professors that participate in the Hillel activities, there is absolutely no affiliation between Judaism and Jews for Jesus. She even stated that if a Jew for Jesus student tried to come into the Hillel Center that they would probably be escorted out. If nothing else, I learned not to confuse those two.

There are a lot of racial issues in the Jewish community that I had never heard of. Specifically, there was a lot of talk about the Jewish community in New York City not getting along with the African-American community. Both communities share the same space and the violence that occurs between the two groups isn’t really understood by anyone. Police in New York City don’t do much to stop it because it’s just “what happens? there.
I also found that there actually is an African-American Jewish group, but nothing much is really known about them and so no one could comment on it.

This was a really great experience for me because I actually learned a lot more than I thought I would. Being that I’m at a time in my life where I’m sort of investigating different religions, since I was never exposed to any (not even Christianity) as I was growing up, I found this discussion just another step towards understanding my own beliefs.