By Evan Taksar Levental
From the outside I look like the poster child for the Jewish community. I have been a Jewish professional for over 10 years; I have worked as an educator, youth group advisor and a summer camp director; I have a dual-Masters from Brandeis University, I have participated in numerous Fellowship and Professional Development opportunities, and I have traveled to Israel a half-dozen times.
And yet, I constantly question whether I am “Jewish enough.”
During my first week of graduate school, two of my classmates were discussing their living situation in Brookline, a section of Boston known for having a large Jewish population because of its secure eruv.* Without thinking twice, I turned to my classmates and asked innocently, “What’s an eruv?”
I was met with a look of complete shock and judgement that silently screamed “what kind of Jew doesn’t know what an eruv is?” With one condescending look, my classmates made a proud and passionate Jew ashamed of their “Jewishness.” I felt guilt, embarrassment, and even questioned whether I was worthy of being part of a Jewish graduate program.
That day I vowed to never make another Jew feel the same way I was made to feel. And I have worked every single day since then to make sure I fulfill my promise.
Our students at Hillel come from every single walk of life you can think of. Some attended Jewish day school, others attended hebrew school, some, like me, found their Judaism through summer camp or youth groups, and others have only just discovered that they are Jewish. Many come from interfaith households or families where being Jewish is not front and center in their everyday lives. And every single student, no matter where they are on their Jewish journey is an absolute vital piece of our community. No student at Hillel 818 will ever get turned away or made to feel like they are any “less Jewish” than their peers.
I fundamentally believe in our mission at Hillel 818 and am proud to be part of the Hillel movement. Whether it’s through the Jewish Learning Fellowship, Ohamnut Arts Fellowship, Shabbat services, or stopping by for a slice of pizza, the programs we provide are absolutely critical to our students wherever they are on their Jewish Journey. No matter what they are doing, no matter how they are doing it, they are part of our tribe and taking their rightful place in our tent. And Hillel 818 will be here for them every step of the way.
*An eruv, for those who don’t know (like me!), is an urban area enclosed by a wire boundary (typically found on the same lines as telephone poles) that, in accordance with Jewish ritual law, transforms a public space into a private one, allowing observant Jews the ability to participate in certain activities on Shabbat (like pushing strollers) that would otherwise be considered “un-Kosher.”