Blog Post : "Reflections on the Selma Ruben Distinguished Lecture Series" by Hillary Steen

"Reflections on the Selma Ruben Distinguished Lecture Series" by Hillary Steen | Anonymous (not verified) | Mar 21, 2014

I was very involved in NFTY in high school. NFTY, or North American Federation of Temple Youth, is a national and Canadian youth group for Reform Jews in high school. It was a wondrous time, and I have many happy memories from it. I went to a bunch of events every year and was a programming coordinator for NFTY-GER my senior year of high school. When I arrived at NYU and started my involvement at the Bronfman Center, I hoped that my Jewish college experience would incorporate aspects of my high school one. In certain ways, it has. But for three years I hoped for the sort of event that finally took place at the beginning of this month. This event was called “Wearing Your Judaism: The First Annual NYC Area Progressive Jewish College Retreat.” Volunteers from the Progressive groups from NYU and Columbia/ Barnard formed a coalition, affectionately called “Kosher Style,” to plan this weekend event, which would be full of services, programs, speakers, socializing, and food. I was one of those volunteers. The Thursday part of the program was a kickoff conversation with Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi Aaron Panken, the president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. This conversation was titled “The Selma Ruben Distinguished Lecture Series” and paid tribute to the late Selma Ruben. Rabbi Jacobs and Rabbi Panken were connected to Mrs. Ruben through the Westchester Reform Temple and remembered her as deeply shaped by the Holocaust, passionate about Reform Jewish Life, and dedicated to passing along that passion to her children. Rabbi Jacobs became the president of the URJ two years ago, and I am particularly impressed with his outreach to people throughout the Reform movement, Judaism-at-large, and non-Jews. Rabbi Panken became the president of HUC-JIR last year and is an accomplished lecturer and researcher as well. The conversation, held in the Bronfman Center and moderated by NYU student Beckie Hamroff, concerned the future of Reform Judaism, especially as my generation goes off to college and “real life.” Both rabbis emphasized the importance of engaging young adults within Judaism, regardless of their own prior Jewish experiences. There is a constant need to balance having a Reform presence in the lives of young adults while also understanding that people, especially young adults, desire to try new experiences. Paraphrasing Rabbi Jacobs: Reform Judaism straddles the line between tradition and modernity, and our tradition needs the “stretching” given by new modes of thinking to be incorporated into how young adults can feel connected to their Judaism. Part of Thursday’s conversation focused on how Reform Judaism can be brought to college campuses. As an example, Rabbi Panken is working on training initiatives for leaders on educating people about Reform Judaism on campuses around the country. However, most of the conversation concerned the importance of welcoming everyone into our community. Reform Jews usually feel like outsiders on their college campuses; we are either too Jewish or not Jewish enough. Educating people about the Reform Movement is one step towards alleviating this, but it is necessary to go much further. Reform communities are increasingly working towards welcoming those who weren’t really active in Jewish life before college or belonged to a completely different religion. How do we welcome young Jews who are leaving their childhood synagogue for the first time? How could young Jews, after they graduate and before they start families, be engaged by this community? What about those who never belonged to a synagogue in the first place, or those who grew up in a different denomination? With people from a wide variety of backgrounds entering Judaism, there is a greater need to respect divergent opinions. Both rabbis made it clear that we have a responsibility to the other denominations and to the Jewish people in general. Attending the Selma Ruben Distinguished Lecture Series has further strengthened my resolve to mature, both as a Reform Jew specifically and as a member of the Jewish community at-large. I’m not sure where I’ll be after graduation, and I grapple with the question of how I will engage in Judaism over the next several years. Rabbi Jacobs and Rabbi Panken’s conversation reminded me of the importance of asking these difficult questions, as well as the need to welcome people into my life who might be a little different from myself. I am proud to be Jewish, and assisting with the retreat showed me first-hand that there are other people in the college community who also are trying to understand their place in the world, both as Jews and as young adults.