By Ángel Torres
Does Judy Gerstenblith ever sleep? Even with her commitments, ranging from Koach senior representative to psychology guided study session leader, Gerstenblith somehow finds time to unwind during her senior year.
“It’s pretty crazy,” she laughed, speaking about her hectic schedule. “It’s hard to find the time, but one of my favorite things about this campus is the people I’ve met through the different organizations I’ve been a part of including Honors Humanities, which I was in for my first two years in college. I still live with my best friends from Honors Humanities.”
Add another extracurricular to the 22-year-old Baltimore native’s impressive list of activities over her four years at this university. Gerstenblith’s two passions – psychology and Judaism– drive her to new heights as she explores both areas with exuberance and an insatiable curiosity.
“Working with Judy is a great experience because she puts all her energy into everything she does,” said Mollie Bryen, Koach’s membership vice president. “I do not really know how she manages to do it all the time, but she is happy and excited to be doing everything and it’s infectious.”
An active member of Koach since her freshman year, Gerstenblith quickly assumed the co-president position during her second year. She speaks effusively about how much the Conservative Judaism organization means to her, reveling in its ability to bring members of the Jewish community together in celebrations such as Koneg, her favorite Koach event.
Koneg combines the words Koach and Oneg Shabbat and is a lively, monthly social event, usually hosted by Gerstenblith in her apartment.
“We have anywhere from 40 to 80 people frequent the apartment over the course of three hours,” Gerstenblith said.
“It’s great because it involves [not only] people from Koach, but also people involved in the Reform Jewish community, in Kedma, and people that are unaffiliated or non-practicing – all coming together to enjoy the beauty of Shabbat.”
Further dipping into her well of energy, the psychology major serves as the vice president of scholarships for Psi Chi, the International Honor Society for Psychology. She also advises incoming psychology students and mentors a freshman psychology major as a Big PSYC Terp.
Gerstenblith seems to take up extra responsibilities with ease and without feeling the weight of expectations. If anything, she relishes helping others optimize their time at Maryland, whether it’s opening freshmen’s eyes to the multitude of psychology scholarships available or guiding other Jewish students on their spiritual journey.
“Over the last few years, Judy has been my own personal Jewish sage. She has patiently helped me practice to lead services and read Torah for Koach, which I don’t have a lot of experience with,” said senior Rachel McGrain, one of Gerstenblith’s roommates. “Judy has been one of my most supportive friends over the last few years, and I can’t imagine Maryland or Hillel without her.”
Last spring, Gerstenblith studied abroad in Scotland for four months, enticed by the University of St. Andrews’ psychology program. Given the close proximity of other countries, she took full advantage of her time in Europe by visiting nearby England and Ireland, along with trips to Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic.
A summer trip to Israel immediately followed the European excursion. Gerstenblith staffed a six-week seminar for 17-year-old American students who are involved in the Ramah Camping Movement, a program she had gone on as a teenager.
When asked what she enjoyed most about her semester-long trip to Scotland, Gerstenblith smiled and paused as she sorted through her memory bank to pick one thing. It was the first time she had been outside of the country to somewhere other than Israel.
She finally decided that she most appreciated the opportunity to “embrace their culture and community.” Considering how she embodies her culture and serves her community back home, her answer is not surprising.
“She constantly reaches out to new people not just to accumulate shallow acquaintances, but to develop lasting friendships,” McGrain said. “Her ruach is incredible – whether it’s a Koach service or a Maryland basketball game, Judy’s mere presence can energize an entire room.”
Gerstenblith always tries to find spare time to attend a Terps basketball game or play the sport she excelled at during her days as a guard on Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School’s team in Baltimore. The die-hard Ravens fan even dabbled in women’s club play last semester.
With one eye on her future after graduation, but both feet planted firmly in the moment, she reluctantly spoke about applying to the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. Perhaps she did not want to go against her philosophy of living in the moment; however, she couldn’t hide her excitement about the prospect of moving to Jerusalem and learning under prominent Jewish scholars.
Nor could she deny the chance to see a live performance by her favorite artist, Mizrahi singer Eyal Golan.
“He has an absolutely beautiful voice,” Gerstenblith said. “He’s not looked upon so favorably by everyone, but I really enjoy his music.”
For now, she looks forward to upcoming events, such as Koach’s Senior/Freshman Shabbat Meal in April, yet another opportunity to celebrate her culture and provide guidance for younger Jewish students.
“The Jewish community at this campus is number one – better than any other campus at any other college in the United States, hands down,” Gerstenblith said.
The sheer amount of hours she dedicates to school and others makes answering the initial question difficult.
What does seem likely is when she does get sleep, Gerstenblith probably dreams about how she can make a positive impact on her community, while adeptly using faith as a foundation for her character and the facilitator for her passions.