COLLEGE PARK, MD — The University of Maryland Hillel has proven, once and for all, that Jewish communities are capable of creating inclusive and pluralistic spaces, where Jews of all denominations can feel comfortable practicing their own brand of Judaism around each other, as long as they are within their own designated rooms of the building at their own designated times.
Rabbi Marty Gerson, Hillel Director, commented, “We have such a wide spectrum of students, with a diverse array of religious practices, and varying degrees of comfort in the Hillel community. We have over a dozen student groups sponsored by Hillel, and when I get to see them all meeting on different nights of the week and competing to reserve the biggest rooms, it shows me how unified we are as Jews.”
Sharon Broder, Hillel’s executive assistant said, “Some students don’t eat out and some of them have never heard prayers done in Hebrew. But that doesn’t mean we can’t share a meal or have a meaningful service together. And when I see the leaders of the groups fighting over the Shabbat-observant egalitarian freshmen, for example, so that one group can grow at the expense of the other, I can see that these students truly care about our inclusive community.”
Jake Fleischer, president of the Conservative minyan said, “I grew up Conservative, I observe Shabbat, and I honestly feel most connected to my Judaism when I’m listening to Rick Recht. And no one here questions any of that. Two of my best friends are Reform and Orthodox, and we love hanging out at Hillel together.”
Neither friend could be reached for comment, as Yehuda Pressler, gabbai of the Orthodox group was davening mincha and Josh Bergman, songleader of the Reform group was at Burger King.
Fleischer continued, “I know people say that pluralism can’t truly exist without one group accommodating the other, but when I’m in Conservative kabbalat shabbat and I know that Orthodox kabbalat shabbat is happening across the building, and Reform services are just outside, and then we all come together to eat strictly kosher food that most students don’t really care is kosher and then half the students go together to parties while the other half stay and play board games, I just really feel like we are a truly united community.”
As Fleischer spoke, another student, Kira Oppenheim, rolled her eyes and said “Jake did a pluralistic summer program in high school and he thinks he’s going to save Judaism. Just because he listens to Reform music and wears a kippah, it really doesn’t mean he’s the next Heschel.”
To this, Fleischer responded, “I listen to Hasidic music too.”