July 21, 2024
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July 21, 2024
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More Bergen County Day School Grads Choose College Park

The way Jenny Schlisser sees it, she’s far away, but not too far away. She’s even been a Bolt Bus rider who’s paid only $1 to get home to Teaneck.

Home from where? That would be from the University of Maryland, College Park.

The campus, which includes one of the world’s leading, cutting-edge Hillels, is home to thousands of Jewish undergraduate and graduate students, drawing not just from the immediate suburban Maryland and Baltimore areas, but the New Jersey and New York areas too, as well as all over the nation and, for that matter, the world.

A Frisch graduate, the 22-year-old senior chemical engineering major learned at Midreshet HaRova for her gap year. Her family davens at Bnai Yeshurun.

So why UMD?

“When I was applying to colleges in high school I was focusing on engineering programs,” she said. “I visited UMD for Shabbat and had the most amazing Friday night davening. Every week we have a Carlebach minyan, and I was completely captivated by it as a 17-year-old.

“Being Jewish at UMD is easier in some aspects and harder in other aspects than living at home,” she continued. “ There are a multitude of learning initiatives available, social events and religious events. At UMD, we have six minyanim on every week day. With over 300 people who identify as being on the Orthodox spectrum, there are so many opportunities to grow intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. And the leaderships are always striving to make the community stronger and better. We have Shabbat meals at Hillel or Chabad or at apartments around campus where upperclassmen invite underclassmen who don’t have kitchens. Slow shira is a fixture in our community that attracts close to 50 people every week.

“I see UMD as practice for the real world. We are required to inform professors that we will be missing class for holidays within the first two weeks of the semester. We have to explain to fellow classmates that we need notes or that we won’t be able to work on a group project for 25 hours every week and we can’t go to the diner with our friends from class. Each student has a different experience on campus, but mine has only been positive.”

Schlisser said that she spends many hours each week at the Hillel, using the kosher dining plan, taking part in the davening there, learning in the beis medrash, braiding challah and being a part of a pro-Israel student group. The Hillel, she added, is always filled with students.

She calls the UMD Hillel her “home away from home where she has had the opportunity to create a “family” of friends. There she loves “hanging out, talking about serious or silly things, learning from each other; every day is a step towards my future, and having this community has gotten me through four difficult years of engineering school.”

Schlisser said that, in her opinion, the school has “the strongest frum college community in the world. It is filled with students who genuinely care about the growth and longevity of the community. We see the value in a secular education and the need to have a strong Orthodox community.”

Rabbi Ari Israel is the long-time executive director of the University of Maryland’s Hillel. He is beloved by Hillel students and their families going back generations.

“Maryland is a very welcoming environment for Jewish students, providing a full array of opportunities to celebrate our Jewish heritage and be connected to a highly active community that embraces the holistic Jewish experience,” said Rabbi Israel. “The university administration is very accommodating in terms of religious needs in residential halls, kosher food through Hillel and supportive of a diverse array of religious expressions. Maryland Hillel boasts a highly active pro-Israel community with eight pro-Israel groups from across the spectrum. Shabbat at Hillel is a warm, welcoming environment which attracts close to 500 students for services every week and recently we celebrated Shabbat Across America in over 80 sites all over campus with 1,700 students participating in one evening.”

Joelle Lang, an East Brunswick resident and a graduate of Ma’ayanot in Teaneck, also attended HaRova in Israel before coming to College Park.

“I am studying journalism, and I was looking for a school that appealed to my journalism side and appealed to my religious side,” she said. “So Maryland has this great journalism school that I loved. I met kids at HaRova who had older sibs at Maryland. There is an Orthodox community here that they don’t have at other campuses. There are people who fit in here at every level of Orthodoxy or religiosity.”

Lang has written for the campus’ daily newspaper “The Diamondback” and has put together social media for the campus’ Jewish newspaper, “The Mitzpeh.” A 22-year-old senior, she has also worked on the Capital News Service, which is part of the University of Maryland’s journalism school.

Most frum students gravitate to Kedma, the Orthodox Jewish community at UMD. The organization provides a selection of programs and learning opportunities, meeting students at their particular level.

On its homepage, UMDKedma.com, it states that it is some 500-members strong.

Kedma writes on its homepage, “Aside from being one of the largest college communities in America, we pride ourselves on being warm, open, diverse, and vibrant.”

“Shabbat at Maryland is so special,” said Lang. “I love the davening and the social time afterwards. I love the time as a community, people always find each other. Shabbat does it for me at Maryland.”

Lang said that for underclassmen who might be timid at first, they quickly learn “there are upperclassmen who would invite them out for a Shabbat meal. The upperclassmen were so friendly to me. Shabbat was the actualization of that friendliness.”

She did have every reason to attend Rutgers, she said. Her mother works at the New Jersey state college, and she could have attended for free.

“We’re paying out-of-town tuition for me to come here,” she said. “It’s so worth it for the Jewish life.”

Joel Hyman, a resident of Bergenfield and a Frisch graduate, said that he’s not surprised that Bergen County area Orthodox students and their families have heard about the University of Maryland.

“People know about the education and the Jewish life here,” he said. “I’m not surprised anymore that Orthodox students want to come here. “All of the college guidance offices know that Maryland has a very good Jewish community, and is a very good school.

Hyman is a senior computer science major.

“There’s a lot of Jewish programming on campus held at Hillel,” he said. I’m there frequently. Hillel is important to every Jewish kid’s life on campus. A lot of people come here because they thoroughly enjoy having a Jewish life as part of their college life.”

Or as Schlisser said, “Never leaving the New Jersey area would have prevented me from gaining a great appreciation for what we have built in Teaneck. We take how easy it is to be a Modern Orthodox Jew for granted in our area. Some of my closest friends are not Jewish and they love asking questions and learning about my culture. I have had intense philosophical conversations with religious Catholics, agnostic Muslims, atheist Jews and people of other religions. Each of them have taught me something new and strengthened my view of how I want to live my life in the future. Being at UMD, or any secular college, has given me the opportunity to reflect on my beliefs and has fortified them. I feel like a stronger person who is more equipped to handle the real world when I graduate in May.”

By Phil Jacobs

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