Monday morning was an exciting day for over 100 new Syracuse students, including myself. We had all been looking forward to move in day all summer and for many much longer. We checked in at Hillel, where we were greeted by many friendly faces. Move in was fairly easy as we had the privilege to move in early, and the majority of people, including myself, spent the day simply doing some last minute shopping and having some final family time.
By Tuesday morning everyone was moved in, and the FreshFest festivities officially begun. We started the morning off with a breakfast, which was a great way to say goodbye to our parents but also meet new people. Hillel director Brian Small also spoke and issued a challenge to “find a mentor, befriend people, and try something new.” This biblical quote sounded applicable at first, but only at the end of the program did everyone realize how true it rang.
After breakfast, we said our final goodbyes to our parents, and then were split into groups for ice breakers. Though at times silly, ice breakers were a great way to meet other students and facilitators and were only silly in the best way.
After ice breakers we had some informative q and a’s about Hillel and the services they offer, and then we broke up for a scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt was a great way to familiarize us with campus, and despite various facilitators insisting the hunt was not a competition, my team won.
Everyone was fairly wiped after the scavenger hunt, so we went back to Hillel and basically chilled which was, again, great just to meet people. We also had a great organized group discussion about the current Middle eastern situation, with the general goal of just making sure everyone is informed on the conflict. We continued to hang out and Once the group was recharged after some dinner, we loaded the buses to embark on some Cosmic bowling. The athletic ability of the FreshFest participants was, not surprisingly, somewhat underwhelming but everyone had a great time just hanging out and having some fun. Friends were made simply from the random seats we took on the bus to wherever lane we were bowling. We spent a solid 2 fun hours bowling and then everyone came back and got some much needed sleep.
On Wednesday everyone came back to Hillel ready to have some more fun. In the morning we broke up into 2 groups: one who did an activity fair and one who made challah, and then we switched. The activity fair was a great way to get a head start on all the opportunities for involvement on campus (such as the Hillel blog, for instance), and the challah making was just old fashion Judaic fun. After these activities, we had an open forum on Greek life on campus. I came to school with my mind made up to not rush, as I am from Atlanta and have only really been exposed to the overwhelming SEC Greek life. After the panel though, I am reconsidering potentially rushing as Greek life on Syracuse seems like a great way to make friends, but not really overwhelming in any way.
After the Greek panel, we had the classic Jewish deli lunch and then loaded the buses to spend the day at the Goliath that is the Destiny USA mall. At the mall we had a home base of Dave and busters where we had unlimited games, and we had the option to also play lazer tag, go on the ropes course, or go to a place called 5Wits which provided interactive adventures, so to speak. I decided to go with 5Wits where my group proceeded to save the world from nuclear destruction, which was a fun and mildly stressful endeavor. We also explored the gargantuan mall, which has hundreds of stores. After around 3 hours of Destiny USA fun, we headed back to Hillel while the group was collectively exhausted.
Once back at Hillel, we wrapped up FreshFest full circle by bringing up the biblical quote “Find a mentor, befriend people, and try something new,” and I think it hit every participant that the group really checked all three boxes, finding friendship with each other and mentor ship with the facilitators, all without judging. We then walked into the sunset leaving FreshFest behind but looking forward to another 4 years of Hillel involvement. I personally had so much fun during FreshFest, and was honestly shocked I could make such genuine connections with both my peers and facilitators alike in such a short time. It was a great experience, and only left me more enthused to be a Jewish student of Syracuse University.
Erik M. Benjamin is a Freshman from Atlanta, GA who participated in the 2014 FreshFest Pre-orientation program.