After four days of snow, Maryland Hillel begins to dig out.
As a blizzard bore down on the mid-Atlantic states on Friday afternoon February 5, Hillel at the University of Maryland, College Park was preparing to host hundreds of students for multiple Shabbat services and meals.
Meanwhile, plans were being finalized for a Hillel-sponsored dialogue with African-American students and for Torah study sessions. Off campus, members of the Habonim Dror movement were getting ready to host Rabbi James Kahn, Maryland Hillel's Senior Jewish Educator, for a special Shabbat dinner.
How would "Snowmaggedon" affect Hillel for Shabbat and the rest of the week?
Shabbat came off without a hitch. In addition to the 400 students who braved the cold and snow to attend services Friday night, 150 students also enjoyed Shabbat dinner at the Rosenbloom Center. Around 200 students came to Saturday morning Shabbat services.
Despite back-to-back storms that dropped more than two feet of snow on the region, cancelled classes for six days, and trapped area residents in their homes, Maryland Hillel held minyans, programs and served kosher meals throughout the week, thanks to the hard work of students and staff. Assisted by Maryland Hillel's full-time dining manager, Marc Chabot, who stayed overnight in College Park for much of the storm, students took charge in making sure meals were served.
"It was not that big of a deal. Everyone realized we had to serve food and we had to pray," says Maryland first-year student Michael Brunwasser, who volunteered to help keep Hillel running.
First-year student Ari Rosenberg walked from his dorm to Hillel for minyan and meals every day. "I was really impressed by the fact that we were able to eat kosher food and daven (worship) despite the bad weather," he says.
Jewish Learning Initiative educators Rabbi Eli Kohl and his wife Naomi held Torah study sessions with students and orientations were held for upcoming alternative breaks but other Maryland Hillel programs were not as lucky. Both the dialogue with African-American students and Rabbi Kahn's Shabbat with Habonim Dror members had to be postponed.
Maryland students were more than willing to suffer through the blizzards in exchange for a long, unexpected break from academia. One Hillel student group even organized a snowball fight.
First-year student Rachel Gordon said that the snow gave her an opportunity to rest and relax with her friends. "It's crazy that we could get hit by two blizzards in the course of one week," she says. "In Maryland, no less!"
While the wheels of Maryland Hillel kept humming smoothly along, the blizzards trapped Maryland Hillel Executive Director Rabbi Ari Israel under a thick blanket of snow. And a week after the first snowflakes fell, the Israel family remained stuck in their home as plows slowly made their way from neighborhood to neighborhood.
"I'm very proud of our student workers, the Kohls and Marc Chabot who really stepped up to the plate at Hillel," Israel says. "People were really dedicated. Torah and Judaism warm up the heart even in the coldest of times."
Elsewhere in the region, University of Maryland, Baltimore County also held successful Shabbat programs. Hillel at George Washington University warmed students with a pancake-and-hot-cocoa brunch, challah baking, and game day.
Reported by Communications Intern David Meyer, a first-year student at the University of Maryland who is very glad to be returning to class after his snowcation.