May 10, 2024
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Where to Find Jewish Life at Rutgers New Brunswick

Rutgers University is widely known as one of the largest and most diverse college systems for Jewish life, with an enrollment of over 5,000 Jewish students at its various campuses. Organizations like Rutgers Chabad, Rutgers Hillel, Rutgers Jewish Experience (RJX) and the Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life provide a wide range of valuable and meaningful programming and support to Jewish students at Rutgers. Although these organizations might be well known by the readership of The Jewish Link, this columnist decided to uncover a few lesser-known aspects of Rutgers Jewish activities. Some of the programming mentioned below pertains to current and prospective Rutgers students, while others are open to the general public.

 

Rutgers Hillel

Perhaps best known for its religious programming, Rutgers Hillel also seeks to advance social programs. Rabbi Esther Reed, director of Rutgers Hillel, highlighted the Center for Israel Engagement and Rutgers Hillel’s collaboration to fight racism and antisemitism at the Rutgers New Brunswick campus. The Center for Israel Engagement is known for coordinating Birthrights trips for Rutgers students who did not spend a year abroad in Israel. Rabbi Reed mentioned that “since the start of the summer, there has been enough interest that two trips were arranged sending Rutgers students to visit Israel for the very first time.” Furthermore, the Center for Israel Engagement organizes events and speakers about Israel, and Israeli politics, from varied viewpoints, with an estimated attendance of over 250 students at each event. Rabbi Reed noted that “Rutgers Hillel encourages a wide spectrum of viewpoints on the state of Israel and encourages its students to be open minded.”

Additionally, Rabbi Reed discussed various initiatives that Rutgers Hillel has collaborated on with other groups at Rutgers. A notable example was the collaboration with African American organizations at Rutgers to address rising racism and antisemitism in the United States. Rabbi Reed noted that “students from the African American and Jewish communities were able to hear firsthand accounts of racism and discrimination from one another. The collaboration between the two communities promotes a stronger message about fighting the rise of racism, antisemitism and discrimination as a united front.”

Rabbi Reed said that the success of these programs stems from the students at Rutgers Hillel. Rutgers Hillel is known for its student-run initiatives, which make up a a majority of events and programs. According to Rabbi Reed, “Part of our mission at Rutgers Hillel is the empowerment of student leaders.”

 

Rutgers Chabad

Rutgers Chabad is recognized for fostering a community of warmth and hospitality for Jewish students at Rutgers. Not frequently publicized are some of the smaller activities and resources it provides students on a daily basis. Rabbi Yosef Carlebach, executive director, discussed the various connections that Rutgers Chabad has with Rutgers institutions. Rabbi Carlebach noted that “Rutgers Chabad is in constant communication with various mental health services situated at the Rutgers New Brunswick campus in order to ensure that students in need are able to connect with mental health professionals on campus.” Similarly, Rutgers Chabad is in close connection with the Rutgers police department to ensure the safety of its students.

Furthermore, Rabbi Carlebach discussed the importance of the happiness of its students during and after their time at Rutgers. First, birthdays at Rutgers Chabad are a special time, with staff sponsoring surprise parties for its student residents. Second, if two students at Rutgers Chabad become engaged, Chabad is overjoyed to be able to host one of their sheberachot meals. Rabbi Carlebach believes that as a result of the caring and nurturing environment that Rutgers Chabad offers, they are privileged to have numerous second-generation students. Rutgers Chabad is able to create a kind and nurturing atmosphere for its students while concurrently being connected with essential services offered by Rutgers University at large.

 

RJX

Rutgers Jewish Experience, led by Rabbi Meir Goldberg, is an organization that promotes Jewish thought and values to Jewish students at Rutgers. From weekly classes to out-of-town shabbatons, RJX provides an avenue to form closer connections with other members of the Rutgers Jewish community.

An exciting program that RJX offers, called “Maimonides Leaders Fellowship,” is a weekly initiative to encourage students to learn more about Jewish life and to strengthen their own connection to Judaism. Students meet with an RJX staff member and learn topics of their choosing about Judaism. To further promote interest, students receive monetary stipends for attending a certain number of events. In regard to the importance of RJX, Rabbi Goldberg noted that “RJX programming provides Rutgers students with a great learning experience and creates a welcoming atmosphere to form personal connections with other Rutgers students.”

 

Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life

The Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life is the only Jewish organization that is directly affiliated with Rutgers University. It is a unit of the School of Arts and Sciences. The Bildner Center organizes programming revolving around Jewish education and culture, including education about the Holocaust for teachers and students and hosting the annual Rutgers Jewish Film Festival.

Most of the Bildner Center programming is open to the general public. Events and online courses are free. Recent online courses have covered the Sephardic folklore, “Orthodoxies” in the United States and Israel and Judeo-Arabic legal history. Several Rutgers professors, including Gary Rendsburg, Paola Tartakoff, Nancy Sinkoff, Michal Raucher, Azzan Yadin-Israel and Jefferey Shandler have offered online courses and lectures. These events are asynchronous, allowing students to pursue academic Jewish studies at their own time and pace, and can be found on the Bildner Center’s website under “Jewish Studies Online” and past events.

Sarah Portilla, program coordinator for the Bildner Centerinstitution, noted that “the Bildner Center offers many opportunities for students of all ages to have access to great scholars and lectures and the opportunity to see unusual, cutting-edge Jewish films at the Rutgers Film Festival, with each film portraying a different story and message about Jewish life and culture.”

The programs and resources mentioned above are either available to Rutgers students or the general public at large. Current and prospective Rutgers students can participate in the social programming at Rutgers Hillel, the weekly programming conducted by RJX and the vast resources provided by Rutgers Chabad. Furthermore, online courses offered by the Bildner Center are open to all and are wonderful opportunities to get involved at the Rutgers Jewish community.


Moshe Hecht of Edison is a summer intern at The Jewish Link. He is a recent graduate of Yeshiva University with a bachelor’s degree in history. Moshe plans to further pursue his academic studies in the master’s program in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

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