Reform on Campus (ROC)… Reform for Life
by Steven Portnoy
For five years–the last two as chair–I have had the privilege and honor of serving on MRJ’s Reform On Campus (ROC) committee. Let me start by giving you a little background about MRJ, of which ROC is a part. Now almost 90 years old, MRJ began as the North American Federation of Temple Brotherhoods. In 2007 we became Men of Reform Judaism, a name that reflects the changes that have occurred in the organization during the last 85 years.
In the 1990s MRJ began the Reform On Campus initiative, which for almost 20 years, has succeeded in keeping Reform Jewish college students in touch with each other and their heritage while on campus. These activities support ROC’s mission statement: “To assist students in creating meaningful Reform Jewish experiences on campus that will lead them to being active and involved Reform Jews for life.”
Through grant awards totaling more than $500,000, ROC has supported nearly 2000 different college programs on campuses throughout North America and around the world. Working under the assumption that 20 students on average attend each program, 40,000 college students have attended ROC-sponsored events during the last two decades.
During the academic year just ended, ROC awarded 17 grants on campusesfrom California to Jerusalem and from Massachusetts to Michigan to NorthCarolina. These funds supported High Holy Day services, a filmscreening of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” A Midrash and a Mealevent, and a Debbie Friedman Memorial Campfire.
A few more examples…
With funding from ROC, Emerson College willsponsor a series of events about Reform Jewish life. According to theschool’s proposal, “The first event [will] deal with the personal lifeof a Reform Jew and the second [will] deal with the religious life of aReform Jew. Together, these events [will] show that living life as aReform Jew is not just about the religious aspects and it is not justabout one’s personal life; being a Reform Jew encompasses everything inbetween.”
Hillel at SUNY Albany recently held a fashion show, “A Cure on theCatwalk,” to raise money for Sharsheret. This New Jersey-basedorganization provides services and support to Jewish women who have beendiagnosed with breast cancer or are at increased genetic risk for thedisease. As a follow-up to the fashion show, Hillel will sell thefeatured clothing, along with clothing donated by the students, with allproceeds being donated to Sharsheret. Any clothing that is not soldwill be donated to the Bethesda House of Schenectady.
Jewish leaders at Kent State University, in anapplication for ROC funding, wrote: “The Debbie Friedman Memorialcampfire slips seamlessly into our programming calendar, whichemphasizes pluralistic Jewish learnings. In the past, we have had aChabad rabbi teach our students how to make and press olive oil, we’vehad an Orthodox educator teach students about “Kosher Sex,” and ourSenior Jewish Educator is a non-denominational rabbi who leads Jewishlearnings on a regular basis. The Debbie Friedman Memorial campfire willbe an excellent chance to add the Reform voice and soul to our ongoingJewish conversation. If, by chance, April 11th brings rain, we have alarge indoor fireplace that can substitute for our outdoor fire pit.”
Perhaps the best testimonial about the value of the initiatives made possible by ROC comes from Rabbi Benjamin J. Zeidman of Congregation Emanu-El in New York City, whowrites “When I was in college at Michigan State Ibegan a havdalah program with a ROC grant (which seemingly still existstoday, thanks to ROC). When I was at HUC inJerusalem I began an HUC Outreach initiative with a ROC grant and thatstill exists today too. Both were transformative to me in my life, andwithout the ROC grant program, neither could have happened.” Thank YOUfor helping me to begin to repay that program.”
If elements of Reform Judaism and a college campus are involved, chancesare ROC has played a part. Learn more about ROC on the URJ website.
Steve Portnoy is chair of the Reform on Campus committee of Men of Reform Judaism.