School’s in Session: How to Connect With Jewish Life on Campus

August 29, 2016Evan Traylor

As a recent college graduate watching many of my friends head back to school, I’ve been reminiscing about all my incredible experiences at the University of Kansas.

My four years as a student were transformative beyond any of my expectations: I forged lasting friendships, explored my Judaism to new depths, and had time and space to truly get to know myself. From big Hillel events and working at the Reform Jewish summer camp, to staffing youth group events and learning how to make my own Shabbat dinner for friends, opportunities abounded from my friends and me to live Jewish lives of excitement, meaning, and, most importantly, fun.

In my new role as the Union for Reform Judaism’s inaugural Presidential Fellow for Millennial Engagement, I’m excited to spend the year strengthening the URJ’s presence on campus and our support for Jewish college students. During the past few weeks, I’ve traveled to St. Louis for the Hillel Institute and Ft. Lauderdale for the AEPi International Convention to connect with students and learn more about their thoughts, dreams, and concerns about being Jewish on campus. For so many Jews, finding a connection to Judaism on campus can raise many questions:

  • “What if the Hillel has different Shabbat rituals than what I’m used to?”
  • “Where will I go for High Holiday services?”
  • “What about anti-Israel or anti-Semitic protests?”
  • “How can I stay connected with my NFTY and URJ Camp friends?”
  • “Can I light Shabbat candles in my dorm room?”

With so many questions to sift through, it’s no wonder many college students struggle to meaningfully connect with Jewish life on campus – but I believe this year is an incredibly exciting time to be Jewish on campus. Though many students may be missing their hometown youth group, congregation, or summer camp as the school year begins, there are plenty of exciting and unique ways for college students to explore Judaism and expand their connection to the Jewish community.

  • Find a place for High Holidays: Use out this “Find a Congregation” tool to scope out the closest Reform temple in your area.
  • Tap into NFTY’s Alumni Network: Looking for a friendly face on campus? If you’re an alum of a high school youth group affiliated with NFTY, the Reform Jewish youth movement, tap into the NFTY Alumni Network to stay connected.
  • Find helpful online resources: Check out's college life page for DIY Jewish guides, resources to help students manage school-related stress, and programs to join.
  • Volunteer at NFTY Convention: In February 2017, more than 1,000 teens will descend upon Chicago for NFTY Convention, a gathering of Reform Jewish teens from across North America. Check out the college staff application and apply for a weekend of service, learning, teaching, and networking.
  • Join a campus organization: Whether it’s your local Hillel, a Jewish fraternity/sorority, or Israel groups, there are plenty of organizations on campus where Jewish students connect to Jewish life.
  • Go on a KESHER Birthright trip: Whether or not you’ve been to Israel, get ready for a free, 10-day trip to Israel with dozens of your new best friends.
  • Tap into money for Reform programs: Sponsored by the Men of Reform Judaism, grants are available for students to create their own Reform Jewish events on campus.
  • And more! Throughout the year, I’ll be working with students to create new and innovative ways that the broader Reform Jewish community can connect with and support Reform students on campus, so stay tuned.

Like I said, it’s a pretty incredible time to be Jewish in college. I hope this school year is one of meaningful learning, exploration, and growth - and I want to be there to help. Please know that throughout this year, I am only an email away with any questions, concerns, or ideas about Jewish life on campus. It’s literally my job to connect with you and provide any support possible, so let’s make sure you have a great and Jewishly connected year on campus!

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