Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, Day One
8:46pm: So we're at the Jewish Day of Learning event and I have two things to say about the speakers:
1) The first speaker called intermarriage a "threat." I would disagree with this because, and I know I may step on some toes here, but I have always believed that intermarriage is completely acceptable between different religions, races, cultures, ethnicities, etc. Maybe it's because of the upbringing I had in a mixed family, but I would have absolutely no problem sharing my life with a non-Jew. If anything, I would argue that intermarriage can help spread the religion further.
2) Rabbi Ari Weinstein claimed that most institutions of higher learning are anti-Semitic. Amongst the murmurs of dissent in the room at this assertion, he then explained his reasoning: The center of academic life on campus is in the library, and in a library one cannot talk, and Jews need to talk in order to learn. Realization slipped over the audience and people began (predictably) to talk about how this may be true. Aaron, Deena and I discussed Duke, and the various places within the main library where talking is not only allowed, but encouraged in order to facilitate group discussion and further people's learning. Then the speaker shushed the group (to which Rabbi Jeremy replied, "But we need to talk to learn."), and I decided we need to invite this person to Duke to see the numerous places in the library that were made specifically for students to talk.
9:21pm: A discussion about giving in Jewish thought has emerged. (To preface this, take a look at Deuteronomy 15:7-12; Maimonides, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 9:1, 9:3, 10:2; and Talmud Ketubot 50a.) When is it ok for a person to give a very large amount? What is the limit? When is a person expected to give a certain amount? The four of us discussed the readings and came to a few different conclusions. Deena asserted that people should be expected to give what they can, meaning an amount that they are comfortable with. However, giving is also based on people's needs, but "need" is very individual, so it cannot be universally judged. Rabbi Jeremy presented us with real-world examples begging an action, and we seemed to have more trouble coming up with an agreed-upon action for different situations, which further shows that so many of the things discussed in these texts are subject to interpretation and based on people's emotional interests. There is also the issue of determining on what grounds "need" should be based. Other groups brought up the debate between "need" and "want." The other groups also discussed the personal reasons and gains from giving to people. Do we do it because we expect something in return? Or is there some sort of spiritual guarantee we get for "doing good?" I don't think anybody really knows. We all have very different reasons behind our actions. I don't think Hashem intended a universal definition or requirement for giving and providing for people in need. It is so individualistic.
P.S. We were excited when we saw that there was coffee ("kawwfee" - shout-out to Amanda) but then that exhilaration was extinguished when we realized that they were all decaf. Whaaaa??? We are college students who don't sleep anyway, and we are expected to be up for at least another four hours after not having slept the night before (in my case) and they give us decaf? Decaf??? But I'm not bitter.
To top it off, I very glamorously spilled my cup of hot water for tea just as the entire rest of the Hillel students walked into the ballroom. The carpet was steaming (:?) 'Twas an interesting sight for those who came in after the cup had been removed
Samantha Tropper is a student at Duke University.