By Monica Sager
Jewish life is active throughout Worcester at three Hillels: Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Becker College, and Clark University.
“For me it’s an organization that really makes the Jewish community at Clark strong,” said Arthur Rabinovich ’22, vice president of ClarkU Hillel.
According to Hillel International’s website, 17 percent of Clark’s undergraduates are Jewish.
“We try to cater to people’s different Jewish needs. For some people that may be religious. For some people that may be their connection to Israel. For some people it’s just a social thing…We do our best to make it as inclusive and supportive to the Jewish community as a whole.”
As the biggest club on Clark’s campus, ClarkU Hillel hosts multiple events each week, including a weekly Shabbat service and meal. Other events that the club organizes includes: Bagel Brunches; Challah for Hunger bakes; Israeli cooking events; and—just on April 4—the first Arab-Israeli Rhodes Scholar, Lian Ryan-Hume.
“Before I came to Clark I knew that I wanted to be part of the Jewish community in some way, shape, and form,” Rabinovich said. “I went to Shabbat and sat down next to some of the Hillel members…They were very open, very friendly. They didn’t ask me about my political views. They didn’t ask me how religious I am…just a normal conversation that made me feel very welcomed.”
Looking to the future, Rabinovich sees the club continuing to reach out to other student organization on campus.
“I think we’re continuing to grow as an organization. We’re constantly improving,” Rabinovich said. “And ultimately making it the best it can be in terms of serving the needs of Jewish students on campus…The bar is only as high as we set it.”
Nine students from Clark continued their Jewish studies in Washington, D.C. in March, as they joined the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference.
“It was probably one the best experiences that I’ve had politically in my life,” Rabinovich said. “What I really liked about AIPAC was the message of bipartisanship that was theme of the event.”
Students attended sessions and talks led by many different political participants, including: Prime Minister of Romania Viorica Dǎncilǎ, Majority House Leader Steny Hoyer, Mayor of the City of New York Bill de Blasio, and Senators Tammy Duckworth and Martha McSally.
“There were 20,000 people, all with probably a wide array of political viewpoints, but we all were united in one thing, which was the ultimate connection that America and Israel have,” Rabinovich said. “It made me have better hopes for the future especially in a time that’s so polarized and divided politically.”
At WPI, two percent of the undergraduate student body is Jewish, according to the Hillel International’s website.
“I enjoy Jewish life at WPI,” said Josh Usiskin ’19, president of WPI Hillel. “I think that the community is small, and the size of the community has given me opportunities I wouldn’t have had.”
Usiskin mentioned how the small size of WPI’s Hillel allows for people of all levels of observance to feel comfortable in the space.
“We have people who come to Hillel with all sorts of level of observances, from people who are only recently getting in touch with their Judaism to people who are more Orthodox and regimented with their practice,” Usiskin said.
Throughout Usiskin’s four years with Hillel, he believes that the club has become more well-known, with both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities on campus.
“I feel like we’re reaching more students who want to get involved with their Judaism,” Usiskin said, adding that tabling at the new student orientation as well as accepted student days helps to get current and prospective students interested.
Each month, WPI Hillel hosts one Shabbat dinner as well as celebrations for the holidays, such as a break the fast for Yom Kippur or the building of a sukkah for Sukkot. They also bake challah—or hamantashen during Purim time—once a term. The group also hosts a meal and learning event with local rabbis, such as Rabbi Moshe Liberow and Rabbi Aviva Fellman.
“(In the future) I would hope to reach more students and more people that want to get involved,” Usiskin said. “I also would like to see us do more with other clubs and organizations. I really enjoyed the event that we did with (ClarkU Hillel).”
Usiskin said WPI Hillel is currently planning an event with the Muslim Student Association (MSA) for the fall, and that they have hosted Shabbat dinners with the Black Student Union (BSU) in the past.
“It seems like everyone enjoys those types of events,” Usiskin said.
Becker hosted its first Shabbat dinner this past March. Food was ordered from Clark University’s Kosher Kitchen. Palatinsky’s sister, who goes to a Jewish school, led kiddish and gave a dvar. About a dozen students—both Jewish and not—ate together, spoke about Judaism, and simply enjoyed each other’s company.
“We’re at the beginning stages,” said Palatinsky, who organized the event with Cooper Harris ’21. “It was small, but I’m happy with how it went.”
The number of Jews at Becker is so small that according to Hillel International’s website, about “zero percent” of its students are Jewish. There was never a Hillel or Jewish club at the college before this year, according to Palatinsky.
“Cooper was trying to start things before I came here,” Palatinsky said. “For me, what started it, I would say, was the dorms. I realized that I would not be able to light Shabbat candles…that is my favorite thing to do.”
Palatinsky is hoping for Becker to have more Shabbat services next year.
“Next year, we’re hoping for every couple of weeks,” Palatinsky said. “Maybe a rotating schedule with WPI.”
Palatinsky also wants to create some charity events, including having Challah for Hunger chapter for Becker to bake challah, donate money into the community, and raise awareness of food insecurity. She also wants to host events for major Jewish holidays.
Becker has reached out to Hillel’s international organization to become its own official Hillel branch where it will be looked after as almost a “daughter-club” by ClarkU Hillel, similarly to WPI’s Hillel. For now, Becker’s group is an official club.
“In general, a college should have a Hillel,” Sarah Palatinsky (Becker ’22) said.
WPI and Becker’s respective Hillels are under the umbrella of ClarkU Hillel and The Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts.
Monica Sager is president of Clark University Hillel.
CAP:Clark Hillel members selling Challah on campus.