By Haleigh Whisted
To celebrate Hanukkah, three of the most active minyanim on campus organized and held C.O.N.N.E.C.T., an event where students of all Jewish denominations can study and learn the Torah’s sacred text together, Thursday evening.
“We’re Jews, and our connection to our past is through our texts,” said Uri Farber, a sophomore Letters and Sciences student and a member of one of the event’s co-organizers, Ometz.
Farber said the reality is that some Jews have more skills or more exposure to sacred texts than others, so representatives from multiple organizations held the event with the hope that students engage in a text that is equally easy or difficult, no matter the level of skill the student has.
“Connecting” the Jewish denominations is the primary goal of C.O.N.N.E.C.T.; the three denominations on campus—Kedma (Orthodox), Ometz (Conservative) and Ruach (Reform)—are the three affiliated student-run organizations.
“It really is all about connecting. Connecting to God, connecting to each other and connecting to our tradition,” said Aryeh Roberts, a member of Kedma and a sophomore philosophy major.
Roberts came up with the acronym “C.O.N.N.E.C.T.,” which stands for Curious and Open-minded (Jews) Noshing N’ Encountering Captivating Texts.
At the gathering, students first received a source-sheet with texts that follow the theme of Hanukkah and then read in pairs. Representatives from the three organizations created the source-sheets. Once the paired reading portion ended, Rabbi Elie Schwartz, from OU-JLIC, and Hillel Rabbi Miriam Liebman explained what the text meant and what the students learned.
Roberts also said that it is more challenging to create communal events in a religious context than events in a social context for Jews on all parts of the spectrum. Learning about the Torah is excellent for an inclusive religious event because it is one activity that all Jewish denominations can take part in.
Torah learning “transcends denominational divides,” Roberts added.
Tali Kosowsky, a sophomore pre-med student, said that she lives in an “orthodox bubble,” so she likes that this event brings her out of it and allows her to socialize with various people along the Jewish spectrum.
The previous year, Roberts and UMD student David Malamud created C.O.N.N.E.C.T. as a “pet project,” said Farber. The Ometz representative said that the acronym name was originally “Conservative and Orthodox (Jews) Noshing ‘N Encountering Captivating Texts,” but then the groups decided that the event needed to include the Reform Jews (Ruach) as well.
Roberts said that Maya Greenbaum, a member of Kedma, came to him with the idea of holding a similar event this year, so she took the lead as Kedma’s representative with the planning.
“I looked around and what I wanted to add to the UMD campus was more community across the different facets of Judaism that exist in Hillel,” said Greenbaum, a freshman kinesiology major.
Before the learning portion, the hosts served sushi and doughnuts to the guests. The event was free for attendees, and the Yavneh Fellowship—which promotes the creation of better Jewish communities—funded the entire gathering. The three student-run groups expected about 40 people to attend.