This piece was originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of the Hillel College Guide Magazine. Read the full issue and sign up for your FREE copy of the next issue at hillel.org/magazine.
Like many children growing up, I was extremely impatient. And I found myself especially losing patience with my mother when she continued to talk to people after services at Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma City. Even when she said it was time for us to go, she somehow found yet another person. While this was frustrating back then, it wasn’t until I got to high school and college that I was truly able to articulate why my mother enjoyed talking so much with people at our temple: In the Jewish community, it’s all about relationships.
While I always participated in Sunday school and the preparation for my bar mitzvah came almost naturally to me, I didn’t start to feel a true sense of commitment to the Jewish community until my incredible three summers at the Greene Family Camp in Bruceville, Texas and four great years of the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), the Reform Jewish youth movement. Through experimenting with services, learning about and fighting for social justice and enjoying the campfires at the end of the day, it was all about relationships. And, in serving as the North American president of NFTY, I was able to connect with thousands of Reform Jewish teens throughout the country.
I decided to attend the University of Kansas because I knew that KU Hillel would provide me with the welcoming Jewish community that I needed to thrive. Before I stepped on campus in August, I already had students at KU Hillel inviting me to some of the first events of the year. Within the first month, I had connected with all of the staff members and other Jewish freshmen. Those first few interactions I had with people at KU Hillel inspired me to take on that role myself: I slowly began making sure that other Jewish freshmen knew about Hillel events and even offered them rides. Eventually, during my sophomore and junior years, I served as a freshmen engagement intern and coordinator for KU Hillel. And now as a senior at KU, I’m excited to continue engaging Jewish students on campus through new projects and events. In all of these moments with Hillel, it’s all about relationships.
With all of these experiences, it only makes sense that I found myself thinking more about relationships this past August, when I moderated a panel discussion with three insightful civil rights leaders in front of more than 200 Hillel student leaders at the Hillel Institute in St. Louis. We heard from Rabbi Saul Berman, who was active in the civil rights movement and participated in the 1965 march in Selma, Ala. Yavilah McCoy inspired me to think more clearly about my own experiences as a half-black, half-white member of the Jewish community. And Rabbi Susan Talve’s community organizing work in Ferguson, Mo., gave me hope for the future. I felt more drawn to the stories, the true human interactions, of the panelists than just the ideas in the conversation.
Hearing impactful stories of social justice and civil rights, I knew that it would take more than just me to do this important, necessary and holy work. In those moments of grief and pain to those moments of joy and celebration, in the Jewish community, it’s all about relationships.
Evan Traylor is a senior at the University of Kansas.