Embracing pluralism on my college campus

Something I was completely oblivious to before stepping foot on my college campus was the fact that a positive Jewish experience in college is not handed to you on a silver platter, but rather relies on hours of hard work and dedication to define and refine the culture on campus.

As a freshman, I became active with Hillel, an organization that acts as a foundation for Jewish life; providing financial and physical resources as well as professional staff. They provide the ideal base for an amazing experience, but the batteries are not included. Hillels across the country help develop student leaders who then become the human batteries of Jewish life on campus. Every year, the pile of batteries grow, and new leaders emerge. By harnessing the energy on campus, Hillel brings together students and empowers them to take ownership of their community in order to create experiences that stay with them for a lifetime.

As a senior in high school, I was drawn to to Drexel University for its highly acclaimed graphic design program and its growing Jewish community. The Modern-Orthodox community was small, but mighty. Even though the Kosher food was scarce, the minyan was unreliable, and programming was infrequent, the students possessed the desire to grow. The growing Modern-Orthodox community took matters into their own hands and lobbied for a OU-JLIC Educator for our campus, who would help our community prosper. Our community has become what it is today because of the strong leadership and commitment of the entire Jewish community at Drexel.

When I was elected as Vice President of Religious Affairs on Hillel’s student board, I was tasked with facilitating the development of different micro-communities and educating students about the needs of their peers. My yeshiva day school education prepared me for the rigors of a college education and helped me develop my personal Hashkafa, but did not prepare me with the skills to create dialog and develop a pluralistic community based on common values.

As an Modern-Orthodox Jew, I was fully aware of my community’s needs but was tasked with learning about the needs and traditions of the Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements. Did we have enough ‘Sim Shalom’ Siddurim for the Conservative minyan? How about a quiet space for an alternative meditation? What’s the best way to advocate for expanded Kosher food on campus? Each individual micro-community on campus has very different needs, but are all catered to by one organization.

The beauty of pluralism lies in the fact that we are forced to think about the needs of others. It is also about introspection and being confident in the way that you practice Judaism. No one should have to compromise on his/her beliefs in order to be a member of our broader community. At the same time, no one should feel pressured to confine to someone else’s practices. This is a hard task, but one that I believe is central to the identity of Drexel’s Jewish community.

We have separate minyanim and services, observe Shabbat in our own ways, but come together to learn, play, and of course, eat. Shabbat dinner is a time for our community to unite as one. Sitting around my table are people from all walks of life. When Kiddush is made, I am one of the few students who stand up. I feel just as comfortable with my decision as the guy sitting next to me who chose to stay seated. I am not threatened by the vibrant pantsuit that the girl sitting across from me is wearing and she is not threatened by my white shirt and knitted Kippah. I’m not going to lie that it isn’t a tad awkward, but I choose to value my community over my personal feelings. I really hope that the strong sense of community exhibited at Drexel can expand to the broader Jewish community and bring the Jewish nation closer together.

About the Author
Max Kahn, 19, is a graphic designer studying at Drexel University. He currently serves on the board of Drexel Hillel and is also a fellow with The David Project. While in High School, he co-founded Advocate4Israel, a website dedicated to engaging future Israel advocates and also launched the Public Affairs Committee at his school.
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