Jewish association keeps traditions and culture alive
This year, members of the Hillel House are preparing to use their resources to further preserve Jewish culture, increase dialogue about the ancient religion and to locally aid the Middle East peace process.
"We are here to create a community," said Dina Berger, Hillel House director. "It provides a common ground for Jewish students and faculty and anyone else on their own individual journey into Judaism, and allows them a chance to learn about their past and share common experiences."
Paula and Mel Schwartz donated the Hillel House in 1996, in memory of their late son, so Jews on the UNM campus could have a place to congregate.
More than 500 Jews are on the UNM campus and last year and 130 of them were active in Hillel's activities, Berger said. She added that the organization's members are optimistic about similar results this year.
The group's activities are structured to preserve the customs of its culture, such as Friday night Shabbat dinners. The Shabbat dinner is an ancient ritual that helps Jews get in touch with God and allows them to let go of the man-made world and any troubles of the past week.
Because of military, social and religious conflicts throughout the world, Hillel House members have developed several community initiatives intended to not only help people better understand Judaism, but also to overcome communication barriers with other religions on campus.
Group members said they have been working extensively on activities directed toward improving Jewish/Muslim dialogue on campus.
The group also offers its members opportunities, such as religious journeys, that otherwise may not be available on campus.
"Not only is it a good opportunity to connect with other Jews and form lasting friendships, it opens doors to us that truly help us in our religious journeys, like going to Israel and meeting people that can have a true impact on our lives," said Libby Werba, co-chair of the group. "We want to stress, though, that while most of the people here are Jewish, anyone interested in learning about our religion is welcome, from either the UNM or the TVI campus."
Officials said other events are scheduled for the semester include a Rosh Hashana dinner, a Yom Kippur breakfast and a community retreat.
"Jewish students and faculty from all backgrounds, both secular and religious, are welcomed here at Hillel," Berger said. "But our doors are always open to anyone interested in learning more about our religion and culture."
Ryan Floersheim writes for the Daily Lobo.