By Matthew Weinsheimer
Amid a semester of social distancing, online classes and social isolation for many Terps both on and off campus, the Jewish Student Union (JSU) is helping students make meaningful connections through their newly established pen pal program.
“We are adding a lot of younger new members and were thinking, how do we get them involved with the club, especially with everything online,” JSU’s vice president of social media and marketing, sophomore public policy major Jeremy Goldstein said. “We decided we could pair them up with older members and get them more comfortable with coming to events.”
The program seeks to match freshmen and sophomores with upperclassmen in a “big-little” relationship to ease the little’s transition into college and ensure that JSU is continuing to foster relationships at this university.
“I’ve always felt clubs like JSU are really rewarding to get involved in but sometimes really hard to get involved in because it feels like everyone is already friends,” said sophomore theatre and communications major Leah Packer, the co-chair of social media and marketing.
“When considering programs, especially for a year when everyone is online and may struggle to create a community, we were looking specifically for events that would foster meaningful connections at a smaller level to help integrate younger members or people who hadn’t been involved in JSU into the club,” Packer said.
Bigs and littles are paired up by identifying commonalities.
“We have a google form on our Instagram with a few questions like favorite animal, religious affiliation, favorite food, etc. and try to match people up with similar interests,” the co-chair of social media and marketing and undecided freshman Leah Bregman said.
The pen pal program aims to be another way that JSU connects Jews from various different backgrounds.
“While you are also being matched with people who might be similar to you, we are not really getting that much in-depth information from each person so you still are being connected with people who might have differing interests or experiences,” Goldstein said.
The pen pal program is currently at a lull due to looming finals. However, at the start of the next semester, Packer wishes to pick up right where the program left off.
“We are hoping after the next semester starts we will have social media challenges for pen pals to learn more about one another, bonding nights or bonding programs and reminders sent out with things like ‘hey bigs, you should ask your little this’,” Packer said. “We want to help get them to a point where they can continue that relationship on their own and have a JSU friend,” she said.
Even though the pen pal program’s inception is tied to the isolation felt from online classes and many students being away from campus, Bregman wishes to see the program continue, even if students eventually return to campus with in-person instruction.
“It was created because we are online, but it will also be really good for when we are not online. I think we will continue it because it is a great introduction for young members to the club,” she said.
Those interested in becoming a pen pal can fill out this google form or going to @UMD_JSU.
“While hopefully in-person programs will eventually happen again, it’s all about making the best of it virtually and finding ways to foster connections,” Packer added.