By Zachary Mellen
She had mono her freshman year, but that didn’t stop sophomore Dani Leopold from getting heavily involved in the Jewish community on campus.
Leopold is an active member of Koach, the Conservative Judaism organization on campus, and said she is “really involved” in its weekly services. She also spent part of winter break on an Alternative Break trip to Croatia doing service work with the local Jewish community. This year she has a fellowship with the Campus Entrepreneurs Initiative (CEI), which works to engage uninvolved Jewish students.
“I chose that because I like to talk to people,” Leopold, 19, said. “The Jewish community’s so big, you run into people a lot, and Hillel can be really overwhelming. So I like to think that with CEI I’m helping everyone, or the people I come across, navigate the waters a little bit.”
This summer she attended CEI’s national engagement institute in St. Louis, which focused on skills and strategies necessary for communicating with other students. She said she “loved seeing everyone on the extremes learn from each other” and have deep conversations about Judaism.
All of this is in addition to her academic work: Leopold is a double major in government and politics and communication, as well as an Honors Humanities student.
Leopold said she feels it’s important to be an active member of the community for spiritual reasons, but also because it’s good to know “right from the get-go” that there are other people who share your interests. “There’s just that instant click,” she said. “Nothing else can beat that.”
Growing up in West Chester, Pa., she said, she attended public high school and never attended summer camp. Her connection to the Jewish community was through United Synagogue Youth, where she held a regional board position for two years and an international board position for one.
“When you take on a leadership position you’re required to observe Shabbat and keep kosher, and I’d never done that before,” Leopold said. “It was really just a huge, eye-opening experience in so many ways, and I’m so grateful for it. When I came to Maryland, I knew there were a lot of aspects of my Jewish experience I wanted to continue, and a lot that I just was really excited about trying.”
Outside of a Jewish setting, she spends her free time reading or calling family, and is also a campus tour guide with Maryland Images.
“Every time I give a tour it’s the coolest feeling,” she said. “Even if you’re having a bad day, or if I’m like, ‘oh my gosh, maybe I didn’t pick the right school!’ it sort of forces me to stay positive about everything.”
Sophomore Jillian Gaulding, who has lived with Leopold since the two met during freshman orientation, said Leopold “makes living with a roommate like living with family.” The two regularly share meals and hang out together.
“She is easily one of the first people I talk to when something is bothering me,” Gaulding said, “and will always welcome my complaining with open arms and an open mind, willing to give great advice or even silence if needed. We have a great time together on a daily basis.”
Leopold said she’s hoping to “branch out a little bit more” this year. She plans to get more involved with the partnership minyan, an Orthodox service with “maximum female participation,” and is looking for more community service opportunities. However, she said she is especially looking forward to working with CEI.
“I think it’s going to be a great experience,” she said, “and it’s really exciting to know that you can possibly help someone else have a meaningful experience as well.”