By Sharadha Kalyanam, for the Mitzpeh, @sharadhak
The Second Annual Masorti On Campus Shabbaton was a chance for traditional-egalitarian Jewish students to get together, exchange ideas and find solutions to problems faced by Jewish students in universities across the country.
The conference, held between Feb. 20-22 at Maryland Hillel, hosted 108 participating students from 30 schools including American University, Cornell University, New York University, Johns Hopkins University and Northwestern University.
The first Masorti On Campus Shabbaton was held around the same time last year at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.
Sophomore American studies major Liat Deener-Chodirker, one of the shabbaton’s co-chairs, said this year’s shabbaton was focused on leadership development with sessions around the general themes of community building, navigating the greater Jewish world, prayer and song-reading and Jewish education.
She said the goal of the conference was to give students skills they could take back to their campuses.
Student leaders from Ometz, the Conservative Jewish egalitarian community here at the University of Maryland, was instrumental in making the shabbaton happen, Deener-Chodirker said.
Itai Kreisler, a freshman biomedical engineering student from Arizona State University who works with the Hillel there, said that he came to the shabbaton because he thought it was a good opportunity for him to meet other people from the college Jewish community and see how they ran their operations.
“I think I really learned a lot from just the people around the country, what they do, what’s successful, what’s not successful, and I think the biggest thing that I’m going to bring back is how to improve my own community,” Kreisler said.
He said it was difficult to keep Jewish students engaged on campus.
“It’s hard to find a lot of Jews who really care and who really want to be a part of the community, so I think the biggest thing that I’m taking back is how to get more people involved because there are a lot of Jews in a lot of college campuses,” he said. “But again, it’s just kind of getting them excited about Judaism, getting them wanting to be a part of the community.”
The shabbaton had a series of sessions lined up for students on various topics including how to run a successful minyan, building a vision and value-based community, cultivating prayer communities and shaping a high-performing community by building your Mikdash M’at, small holy place.
One of the sessions that attracted a lot of students was the #SocialMedia Bootcamp by David Yarus, founder of JSwipe, the fastest growing Jewish dating app with 225,000 users.
Yarus spoke to students about how to implement social media strategies and best practices.
“Everyone uses social [media], but people don’t understand the best social strategy, so hopefully the intention of today is to provide a layer of strategy and foundation for them to really frame their thinking and approach and designing what they do across social media,” he said.
Rachel Shwartsman, a public health major from Elon University said that Jewish students were very diverse in their beliefs and that the conference focused on students having a unified view and bringing people together no matter what their beliefs are.
Shwartsman said that students could go to their own services and practice their beliefs and then communicate it with everyone, find out what they believe in and what they are into.
“And you might come out of it with a new idea or like a new point of view that you wouldn’t have thought of before,” she said.