It was the first day of move-in for my first year at University of Maryland, College Park. My dad helped me move into my dorm and then, to my complete shock, dropped me off at Maryland Hillel with the firm suggestion, “Go make friends.” I was terrified until I walked in and started meeting the warmest and most welcoming group of people I have ever encountered. It quickly made me feel connected to a strong community before I even stepped foot inside a classroom.
Throughout my time in college, Hillel helped me find a balance between the rigorous scientific work that was involved in my psychology and neuroscience classes, and the spirituality and community that are also so important to me. Attending Friday night davening (prayer services) and Shabbat afternoon “slow shira” or communal Shabbat singing, gave me a chance to tap further into the spiritual connection to Judaism that I began to explore during my gap year in Israel.
I also explored incredible leadership opportunities through Hillel. I participated in an Israel education fellowship that taught me more about the complex history of the Jewish state. My friend and I started a beit midrash program for women, a text-based, intensive Torah study opportunity that opened up all kinds of conversations and new opportunities for women at Hillel. I also had the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia with Hillel and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to learn about JDC’s different initiatives there.
Of all these opportunities and gifts, the greatest gift Maryland Hillel gave me was that of community. As I left Maryland and went on to pursue research in Neuropsychology at Columbia University Irving Medical Center and a PhD in Clinical Psychology at Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, I found a community of Maryland alumni waiting for me in New York who cared passionately about their own Jewish identities and who immediately welcomed me… Just like they did on my first day at Hillel all those years ago.