While I may be wearing a surgical mask while interacting with my community, the smile underneath has never faded.



June 27, 2022

“Living away from home and adapting to quarantine life, social distancing, and online learning during the pandemic has presented its fair share of challenges. Over past two years, I’ve learned what it feels like to leave your home and everything in it at the spur of the moment, not knowing when you will come back – something my immigrant parents went through in their own childhoods.

“As a person with a pre-existing medical condition, I’ve also felt firsthand the impact of the pandemic on healthcare and the importance of ensuring everyone has access to care. Hearing about the heroics of everyday people, like nurses at hospitals in New York who were working without protective gear, rearranged my priorities and raised in me questions about my own contributions to my community.

“What can a nineteen year old, locked inside an apartment 24 hours a day with his parents and two siblings, really do? In the thick of quarantine, I found several ways to contribute. First, my friends and I organized and scheduled charitable food deliveries from local supermarkets to the residents in our hometown who were in need. Additionally, with the help of my grandparents, I tutored a number of senior citizens on the use of modern technological innovations, like Zoom and Google Hangouts. I will never forget seeing the joy in their eyes when they were able to see and connect with friends and family on their screens.

“I have spent a significant amount of time over the past two years reflecting on, reorganizing, and prioritizing my life choices. Today, I am not the same person I was when the first COVID case was documented in the United States on January 21st, 2020. While I may be wearing a surgical mask while interacting with my community, the smile underneath has never faded.

“I’ve learned how to persevere, and that the secret to perseverance is adaptation. But even with adaptation, in the midst of chaos, it’s important to keep your close values intact, which has involved learning what being Jewish means to me. To me, Judaism is a powerful marker of shared common values: Education, family, and togetherness. Judaism is resilience, even in the face of adversity and crisis. It is what has kept me going, even on the gloomiest of days, and I will always be proud of the fact that I am a Jew.” – Ethan Voskoff, Northwestern University ‘24

Ethan Voskoff is a recipient of the 2022 Hillel International Campus Leadership Award. Learn more about Hillel scholarships for Jewish students.