Experience Shabbat in New York City the

Experience Shabbat in New York City the Hillel at Syracuse University way! Come to Go Orange Shabbat in New York City at Sutton Place Synagogue.

A suggested donation of $36 (per person) is requested. RSVP at http://www.suhillel.org/GoOrangeShabbat by Thursday, June 5. Student-led services start at 6:15 pm. Schmoozing on the Sutton place rooftop terrace begins at about 7:15 pm. Appetizers and drinks will be served.

E-mail Matt, at mzheleznyak@suhillel.org, for more information. He can also be reached by phone at (315) 422-5082 x205.

Tweet: #GoOrangeShabbat if you are excited!

This event was made possible thanks to the generosity of the Rehkugler family.


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.

D’var Torah – Week of February 28

This week’s parsha is Pekudei. This is the last torah portion that discusses the creation of the Mishkan. The Mishkan or tabernacle was basically a portable sanctuary from the time of exodus from Egypt until conquering the land of Canaan. It was a spiritual center in the middle of the dessert during the time of travel for the Israelites. This was the place where G-d would communicate his messages to Moses. This parsha signifies the completion of the Tabernacle which was only finished due to the generous donations of the people. They donated gold, silver, and copper toward the making of the Mishkan. Betzalel and Aholiav also made the 8 priestly garments, those being: the apron, breast plate, cloak, crown, hat, tunic, sash, and breeches. Once the Mishkan was finished it was taken to Moses who anointed it with the holy oil, and officially erected the tabernacle. He then initiated his 4 sons and Aaron into the priesthood. This parsha ends with a cloud appearing over the Mishkan, which represents the divine presence that will from then on dwell within the Mishkan, and will act as the dwelling for G-d in the physical world.

Gold, silver, and copper were the three metals given to make the Mishkan. We would all agree the among these three, gold is the most valuable. However, the tabernacle wouldn’t have been complete without all three. They were needed for very different parts, but all of them were necessary for the finished product.

Every day, we are comparing ourselves to those around us. We may think we aren’t as good as the people we associate with whether it be due to money, social skills, grades, etc. What would the world be like if it was only filled with one type of person? What would the world be like if it was only filled with gold?

For example, when I was in St. Louis last summer with the seven other interns, I started to question why I had been chosen. After getting to know the others I realized that my knowledge of Judaism, my Jewish community, and definitely my Jewish confidence was not at the same level as the people I was sitting next to. I was uncertain as to what it was exactly that I was going to bring to the table in this group of highly motivated Jewish students. I learned quickly that even though I may not have known as much about our religion, I had many of my own individual strengths to bring to contribute.

Each and every person in this world brings something unique and valuable to society that has created the special environment we all live in. Just like the three metals that were needed to make the Mishkan, we as different types of individuals are all valuable and imperative to the formation of life as we know it today.

Shabbat Shalom

D’var Torah written by Arielle Steinberg, a Junior Psychology and Spanish Dual Major. Arielle also serves as one of the Peer Engagement Interns for the Winnick Hillel Center.

Hillel’s Special Valentine

Ben and I first met during Freshfest 2009 at the bagel breakfast. His parents weren’t able to make it, so he ended up sitting at a table across from me and my parents. I remember talking to him later in the day on the quad – I’m really good at remembering names and he’s not, but luckily he had remembered my name.
We lost touch once freshman year started. In the spring, I decided to go on Birthright through Hillel and didn’t actually know anyone else on the trip. A friend of mine told me that one of her friends was going, too, and that we should be friends. It was Ben, of course, and we spent a lot of our trip hanging out together. Literally everyone on the trip with us knew that I had a crush on him (including Ben himself) but he had a girlfriend and showed no interest in me.
Throughout our sophomore year, Ben and I would meet up with our Birthright friends, and although we were both in relationships at that point, I still had a huge crush on him. He was a psych major and I was a psych minor, so we ended up in classes together at least once a semester. I would always make him study with me.
It wasn’t until our junior year that we finally started dating. He invited me to his military ball (he was in Army ROTC), and we’ve been together ever since. He proposed last November while we were on vacation in NYC – we’re planning a nice Jewish wedding for 2015.
Post by Victoria Wolk, Syracuse University Class of 2013 Alumnas