By Dylan Spilko
The Jewish community at this university continues to expand with an on-campus group that is revamping their organization for the semester.
SAFRA, otherwise known as the Sephardic Association for Festive and Religious Activities, is a relatively new organization that aims to help Sephardic students at this university connect with and celebrate their Sephardic heritage.
The group, which doesn’t have formal meetings, has a board of four students that organizes various events. Although there was a dip in attendance to their events in the last two years according to senior SAFRA member Avi Passy, SAFRA is gaining more attention this semester from the Jewish community.
“I’d say that it’s starting to grow this year,” Passy, an electrical engineering and political science major said. “We’ve definitely seen more engagement this year than we did last year.”
SAFRA is the only cultural group on campus for Sephardim. Sephardic Jews are the Jewish descendants of Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East.
Last year, they had a group chat of about 30 members, according to senior SAFRA member Mayan Beroukhim. As of the start of the fall semester, the organization created a Facebook group and has seen their total page “likes” reach 80. The Facebook page is where SAFRA creates and promotes SAFRA events.
“I took the initiative to make it into a Facebook page. That way we’re not just creating awareness with people who are in the group chat, but with anybody in the community that wants to get involved and just kind of making it more of an open forum,” Beroukhim, a family science major, said.
Typical events for SAFRA members include what board members like to call a “Sephardi Party.” A Sephardi Party can be described as any general hangout, ranging from a movie night to a hangout or even a dinner. These events are designed to increase the familiarity between Sephardi Jewish students and the university community that surrounds them.
“The main goal of SAFRA is to give Sephardi Jewish students a place to embrace their heritage,” junior SAFRA member Noah Zbozny said. “The majority of the Orthodox community on campus is Ashkenazi, so SAFRA gives Sephardi students a place to embrace their heritage, partake in Sephardi davening every now and then and get some good home-cooked Sephardic meals.”
Most of the members haven’t had any way to celebrate their heritage and to share it with a community of people. With SAFRA, students have a group of people that accepts all kinds of religions and beliefs.
“The SAFRA community is extremely open and welcoming,” Zbozny, a computer science and finance major, said. “Anyone is always welcome to any event, Sephardi or Ashkenazi, Jewish or non-Jewish.”
The board of organizers for SAFRA continually posts events on the SAFRA Facebook page and sends out information about upcoming events in the Hillel weekly newsletter. For the rest of this semester, the main organizers of SAFRA hope to expand the broader Sephardic community at this university.
“The University of Maryland is so diverse. SAFRA is just another awesome and unique way that students can practice their Jewish heritage the way they see fit, and I think that is what is so beautiful about it,” Beroukhim said.