FreshFest 2014 – A Fresh Perspective


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.

Meet the Facilitators – Part Three

They say that the third time is the charm, so it’s time to meet the last round of facilitators this lovely #FreshfestFriday! #10days!!!!


Hi! My Name is Jackie Feitel, I am a sophomore here at SU and I’m from Long Island, New York. I am currently a psychology major in the College of arts and sciences. I am a member of the Continue reading

Meet the Facilitators – Part Two

Another Day, Another #FreshfestFriday!!!! We’re getting closer, so here is another look at some of this year’s Freshfest Facilitators! #17


My name is Cory Puchall and I am a communications and rhetorical studies and information management double major! I am going into my sophomore year and I am from Norwood, NJ. I am involved in Continue reading

Meet the Facilitators – Part One

We’re very excited to start introducing our facilitators for Freshfest 2014! Let the countdown to #Freshfest2014 begin!! #24




Hi! My name is Zach Goldberg, and I’m a rising senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, majoring in Economics, Public Policy, and Energy and It’s Impact. I’m the current President of the Hillel Jewish Student Union at Hillel at SU – and FreshFest is exactly how I first got involved. I’m involved on campus in a number of other things as well – I’m a member of an IFC fraternity, a U100 campus ambassador, a Dean’s Team peer advisor, and the founder and former president of an environmental education organization! No matter what it is I do on campus, however, nothing will ever compare to the experiences I’ve had here at Hillel. Get ready for the greatest week – and four years – of your life! Continue reading

D’Var Torah – Week of Friday, April 18

I do NOT like giving D’var torahs at Hillel.  I feel that the ideal Hillel Executive Director and staff member doesn’t bring his or her politics into the room.  This organization is not my platform or soapbox.  Besides, the quality and significance behind the D’var torahs that your peers produce is outstanding.  You all make me very proud with your commentary on Torah and your reflections as maturing adults.

However, this has been a particularly confusing and hectic Passover week.  And there has been a lot of disturbing events in the news cycle.  I wanted to share some thoughts I had as I was trying to process current events.  So much happened this Passover week… A time when we use the word freedom with nearly reckless abandon.

A word of advanced warning, this is not a “feel-good D’var.”  It is sad and real, and raises more questions than it answers.  I hope you all are challenged by it.

I lied to you all.  Specifically, I lied by omitting an important truth at the first Seder.  I implied in my opening remarks about how lucky we were to be together, in a room of 430 Jews and friends, worshiping freely.  I did not address the cost of our freedom or speak about the reality of the world around us.  It is an unfriendly world with tragic reminders of the cost of freedom.  We often take this freedom for granted.

While we were all together, enjoying Passover, the Ukrainian government was drafting policy that we have not seen since the start of World War II:

World leaders and Jewish groups condemned a leaflet handed out in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk in which Jews were told to “register” with the pro-Russian militants who have taken over a government office in an attempt to make Ukraine part of Russia, according to Ukrainian and Israeli media.

Jews emerging from a synagogue say they were handed leaflets that ordered the city’s Jews to provide a list of property they own and pay a registration fee “or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated,” reported Ynet News, Israel’s largest news website, and Ukraine’s Donbass news agency.

Just before we all gathered, proudly wearing our Hillel kippahs, and shirts, a shotgun-wielding man opened fire at two Jewish sites in suburban Kansas City on Sunday, killing three people — including a teenager and his grandfather — and shocking a peaceful community.

Ironically, though, the suspect in the Kansas City shooting was not discriminating in his violence.  He shot and killed three non-Jews in his rampage, screaming anti-Semitic and offensive hate speech in a Jewish communal space.  He simply missed his true targets.

As we all ate matzo and complained about how long it took to get chicken, a nut-job was arrested in Boston, for disturbing the peace at a memorial for the Boston bombings.  Apparently he was acting strangely, with a backpack, and causing a panic in the crowd.

This week was a tragic week filled with hate and violence.

In times of tragedy, we turn to the Torah for answers.  This week’s Parsha is Kedoshim.  Kedoshim begins with the statement: “You shall be holy, for I, the L‑rd your G‑d, am holy.” This is followed by dozens of mitzvot (divine commandments) through which the Jew sanctifies him- or herself and relates to the holiness of G‑d.

These include: the prohibition against idolatry, the mitzvah of charity, the principle of equality before the law, Shabbat, sexual morality, honesty in business, honor and awe of one’s parents, and the sacredness of life.

The most important and most quoted bit of Kedoshim is “Love thy neighbor (or fellow) as thy self.”

The great Rabbi Hillel (for whom I have a particular affinity) was once asked to summarize the Torah “on one foot”.  His reply was “Love thy fellow, as thy self, and the rest is commentary”.  That makes this parsha kind of important, I would say.  And there is no denying that loving thy neighbor is a wonderful concept.  The big question, in light of current events, is simple, though: how do you love thy neighbor… when thy neighbor doesn’t love you back?

We read this week, at the Seders, that “In each and every generation they rise up against us to destroy us.”  The Christian faith may suggest that we need to turn the other cheek.  This is a new-testament concept that supports and encourages the idea of peaceful protesting and non-violent passive approaches.  The ability to forgive, in the Christian faith, is divine.

And while I admire that the Christian approach to forgiveness, Passover and Judaism teaches us that forgiveness is important but that remembering is even MORE important.

For instance, it’s not enough to just SAY the words of the Seder.  We are asked to experience the Seder as if we ourselves were slaves being led out of Egypt.  We build our own experience of enslavement and freedom with the taste of Matzo and the visuals of dotting the plagues with wine, incorporating many senses into a powerful communal memory.

This, I suspect, is also why Jews have adopted the motto “Never Forget” to memorialize those lost in the Holocaust (and to prevent further genocides in the world) and not a more Christian motto of something like… “Always Forgive.”  “Never Forget” implies a more active approach to preventing horrible atrocities from happening again and a community memory.

Let me make this clear: I am not telling you to NOT love thy neighbor (sorry for the double negative).  I am merely suggesting that one must love thy neighbor AND remember.  Memory is an important part of love.

Love thy neighbor and appreciate your freedoms this Passover season, especially in light of current events.

Shabbat Shalom.

D’Var Torah – Week of Friday, March 21

This Shabbat, we look to two parshah’s in the Torah: Shemini and Parah.   Let’s first look at Shemini.  Aaron and his sons have been initiated into priesthood as kohanim after completing their 7-day training period of the Mishkan.  Aaron’s two sons older sons, Nadav and Avidu, make an offering before G-d and He rejects it, commanding that the sons die as a result.  To clarify which sacrifices are acceptable and which aren’t, G-d then commands the kosher laws, identifying which animals are permissible and prohibited for consumption.  This parshah also explains the laws governing ritual purity and how do differentiate between the pure and the impure.  The ruling goes that if you touch an impure object, whether the circumstances are deliberate or not, you are automatically rendered ritually impure.

The next parshah, Parah, continues this idea of ritual purity.  G-d is mad at the Israelites for defying His laws by worshipping idols and profaning His Holy Name.  G-d then exiles the people only to bring them back and purify them with the waters of the Red Heifer.  After He purifies them, he will rebuild the land and once again, it will be bountiful.  He says, “I will resettle the cities, and the ruins shall be built up. And the desolate land shall be worked, instead of its lying desolate in the sight of all that pass by. And they shall say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the Garden of Eden, and the cities that were destroyed and desolate and pulled down have become settled as fortified [cities].'”

When I first read the Shemini parsha, I had to admit, I was a bit angry.  How can these rules of impurity be so definitive, harsh, and absolute?  In the eyes of the Torah, I understand that I am impure for not keeping Kosher because I have consumed unkosher food—Torah 1, Molly 0.  But take [someone who keeps kosher] for example—if [person’s name] so much as touches unkosher food, [person’s name] is considered just as impure as I am.  Seems a bit unfair, right?

Then I got to reading Parah and saw that the Torah does have leeway and forgiveness.  If we are impure, we have the opportunity to redeem ourselves and become pure once again.  The Red Heifer teaches us that.  As well, the Red Heifer teaches us to take responsibility for the problems we create, so that we can resolve them, thereby improving ourselves and the world around us. It also tells us that when things go wrong in life, they can often be traced back to causes we ourselves created.

I saw this concept come to life last week when I had the incredible opportunity to join Syracuse Hillel, Penn State Hillel, and the Jewish Disaster Response Corps to rebuild damaged homes from last year’s tornado in Oklahoma.  There’s this idea in volunteerism called “sweat equity” in which the homeowners affected by the storm would put in their own labor alongside us volunteers to help repair the damage.  Now don’t get me wrong—I’m not in any way suggesting that the homeowners in Oklahoma created this mess.  But just as G-d promised the Israelites that he would rebuild the land, Oklahoma too got a second chance.  In one week, our group completed two roofs, a fence for a horse area, and restored some hope and faith in lives of the homeowners that we met.

I had never been to Oklahoma before to understand just how desolate the landscape, or lack thereof, is.  From flying over the land to driving through it, I couldn’t help but wonder, was this place always so empty?  Or did the tornado tear it up and this is what’s left?  I didn’t get the answer to that question until we went to Plaza Towers, the elementary school where 7 children died last year.  We walked around the area and saw all of the new construction: Plaza Towers rising up again, a new community of houses surrounding the school—a “Garden of Eden” for people of Moore.  That was when I could tell the difference between the rolling plains of the Dustbowl region and where someone’s house once stood.

But getting back to creating our own problems that we have a duty to fix:  On our trip, we had the unique opportunity to participate in an interfaith dialogue with a group of Muslim Ismaeli students.  As Jewish students, we came up with a list of ideas and concepts that come to mind when we think about Islam, and the Ismaeli students did the same for us, then we exchanged lists together.  Some things were expected, like our perception of the relationship between Islam and terrorism.  Others were surprising, like the Ismaeli students saying that Jewish people tend to have disproportionately large noses.  The conversation was open and civil and no one took offense to any of the comments.

But we asked ourselves in smaller groups, why is it okay if I say that [someone’s name] is cheap, but if a non-Jew says it, suddenly it’s not okay?   We create these double standards all the time without even realizing it until someone’s feelings get hurt.  So why do these stereotypes persist?  Here’s my answer for you—take a look at the Syracuse campus.  Minority students make up a quarter of our campus, coming from a wide variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.  This is something the university looks for in prospective students and promotes all the time, right?  But look again—how often do you see one group interacting with another?  We cling to what we know, what we’re comfortable with, who we’re comfortable with.  All this diversity just leads to more segregation.  So as long as we talk amongst ourselves as Jews making fun of each other’s disproportionately large noses, why would another ethnic group have any reason to think it’s not okay for them to do the same?  If we’re not okay with other people joining in on our “inside jokes,” then maybe it’s time we stop joking about them.  Just as the parshah teaches us, we must take responsibility for the problems we create, so that we can resolve them.

Shabbat Shalom.

D’Var Torah written by Molly Smith, a Sophomore Broadcast Journalism Major who is an active member of Phi Sigma Sigma Sorority and CitrusTV News.