By Caroline X. Adkins
Rabbi Moshe and Rebbetzin Esti Schonbrun are the newest educators to join MEOR Maryland, a campus-based organization committed to extending learning opportunities to all types of Jewish students through fellowships, classes, Shabbat and holiday meals, trips abroad and more.
The Schonbruns came to this university because they were inspired by the vibrancy of Jewish life on campus. “It was not only the large community, but the tangible enthusiasm about Jewish involvement that made us want to stay,” said Esti.
Prior to moving to Maryland, the Schonbruns were the face of Jewish Arizonans on Campus, the organization for Jewish students at the University of Arizona. Their mission there was similar to their mission here: reaching Jews on campus through classes, one-on-one learning, Shabbat and holiday meals and trips in the U.S. and abroad. The Maimonides fellowship, for example—a 10-week learning program featuring special speakers, discussion groups and more—serves students both at the Jewish Arizonans on Campus program at the University of Arizona and at the MEOR program at this university.
However, the Jewish community at the University of Arizona is smaller and has fewer resources to help students explore their Jewish identities than this university. This university offers a wider range of options, such as a large Hillel with a kosher dining hall, Chabad on Campus, and student-run Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Shabbat services. And while MEOR Maryland hosts several couples, the Schonbruns were the only couple serving Jewish Arizonans on Campus.
The Schonbruns are excited to offer a variety of Jewish engagement opportunities to this university’s community. MEOR is open every Shabbat for home-cooked meals, and students have the opportunity every other Thursday night to help prepare them.
“The family was very kind and welcoming and the food was great,” said JD Krebs, a senior government and politics major who enjoyed a Shabbat lunch with the Schonbruns at MEOR.
In addition to the Maimonides fellowship, Rabbi Schonbrun leads small-group learning sessions on weekdays called Pods, often taking place in the meetup spaces or “pods” in the Edward St. John building.
“My goal with Pods is to create boutique, relevant and in-depth learning experiences,” said Rabbi Schonbrun.
In Pods, students elect to join a multi-session program that is interesting to them. Examples include “Muggles to Morals: Harry Potter and Judaism” and “High and Holy: Symbolisms and Meanings of the Holiday Traditions and Customs.”
“I’ve found that it’s a great place for students who don’t necessarily relate to Hillel, yet still want a quality connection to Judaism and to the community,” said Daniel Ben-Or, a sophomore finance and computer science major who is a regular attendee of Pods.
MEOR’s Jewish engagement opportunities don’t stop on campus. MEOR Maryland offers multiple Israel trips, including a Birthright trip, MEOR Israel, MEOR Vision and an internship program in Israel called Meor Jinternship. In addition, MEOR offers a trip to Poland where students learn about the Holocaust and the pre-Holocaust vibrancy of Jewish life in Poland.
“Touring Poland and seeing communities that used to be so actively Jewish before the war now barren starts students on a path of exploring what their Judaism means to them today,” explained Esti. “The goal of the trip is for each student to come home with a deeper sense of Jewish pride and identity.”
All in all, the Schonbruns’ goal is to create a close-knit community on campus of which each student feels like they are an integral member. As Esti put it, “the goal is not simply to service students with their learning and engagement opportunities, but to foster an environment of warmth and growth that reaches beyond their programs.”