by Malki Karkowsky
Last week, I was fortunate to be one of 53 North American students selected by Hillel to attend the United Jewish Communities' General Assembly in Israel. Six thousand Jews from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem to experience the wonder and fear of living in today's Israeli society. More importantly, we used this meeting as a forum to discuss the current and coming situation of the Jewish people.
This whole experience was incredible. It was heartening to see so many Jews gathering together to show concern for the future of the Jewish people and to provide support and love for a country that is experiencing such hate and animosity from its neighbors.
Despite the support from so many caring, active Jews, there was great concern about North American Jews. This plight was addressed and readdressed. One great philanthropist compared North American Jews to the Jews of the former Soviet Union. Both assimilated at incredible rates- fading into the mainstream society faster and faster with time. The only difference between the two demographics is Jews from the former Soviet Union had no choice to practice their religion - North American Jews are voluntarily relenting.
The speakers at the conference paid special attention to university students and where we can factor into the overwhelming flow of assimilation.
This month is Jewish Awareness Month at the university. The focus of this month is to make people more cognizant and more familiar with Judaism. This greater knowledge is not just for those who are not Jewish, but also for those who are Jewish.
I am not one of those people who believe in the uniformity of religion. Individuals maintain very personal beliefs that dictate how they think and conduct their lives and how they want to worship their conception of God. I do not believe religious practices are the only ways for a person to express his or her Judaism.
But I am one of those people who believe that there is incredible beauty in the heritage and tradition of Judaism.
Assimilation in North America still grows at a rapid rate - more and more Jewish people stop identifying themselves as Jews with each passing day. In view of the richness of our heritage, I find this to be a saddening shame.
People should not feel pressure to become observant - I believe in the autonomy and right for everyone to choose as he or she sees fit, especially when it comes to worshipping God. What I am asking for is an active association with a Jewish identity.
As a campus with one of the largest Jewish populations in North America, I would love to show that great philanthropist and all the people who fear for Judaism's future they should not worry. More than 6,000 Jews gathered in Jerusalem to discuss and worry about Judaism's future. In response, I want to show them a university of more than 6,000 Jews that are proud of being Jewish and more than willing to identify with this wonderful heritage.
There are multiple opportunities for the Jews on the campus to prove their affiliation and pride. There are the programs throughout JAM and next semester's Shabbat 1018, a free Friday night dinner for 1,018 students to come and celebrate Shabbat together in an open and pluralistic way.
These vehicles for Jewish identity will help our campus assert that we will not voluntarily assimilate into the mainstream, or even do so involuntarily like the Jews of the former Soviet Union. We will be happy, active and conscious of the wonderful bonds that make us a long-lasting, strong family - the bonds that make us Jewish.
Malki Karkowsky is a senior English major. She can be reached at email@example.com.