By Rachel Askinasi, for the Mitzpeh, @raskinasi

Lavi Shmita event
University of Maryland students learn about the laws of Shmita with Shaul Judelman during Lavis first event as a student group. Rachel Askinasi/The Mitzpeh

Jewish students on campus found a hole in the list of opportunities to get involved with their peers who wanted to think about sociological issues more than they want to analyze religion, so they created Lavi to offer an alternative.

Alyssa Gabay, a freshman microbiology major, went on a gap-year fellowship program in Israel last year run by educational nonprofit Lavi Olami. Its goal is to involve people with the current remnants of Israeli and Jewish history.

Gabay said she wanted to bring the idea of the think tank program, which focuses on how they address sociological problems in Israel, to campus through Lavi.

“I realized that I had come in with a specific perspective of what Israel was and left with knowing it has the unique blend of religion and ethnicity,” she said.

For their first event at Hillel, Lavi members partnered with JFarm,a Jewish student agricultural group,  and invited speaker Shaul Judelman to educate students about Shmita. Shmita, the sabbatical year in the Jewish calendar, runs on a seven-year cycle and this year is a seventh year, which means people cannot eat anything grown in Israel because the land is supposed to be left unsown in order to restore its fertility

Gabay is personally connected with Kedma, the orthodox group on campus, so when more Kedma members came than JFarm members, Gabay adjusted the program and told Judelman he could go deeper into the meanings behind Shmita. They spoke about the social justice values behind Shmita and geared the conversation toward a wider spectrum, Gabay said.

Lavi event-planning and recruiting chairman Micah Spielman said Judelman was helpful in explaining Shmita laws in regard to agriculture and farming.

Judelman said it is sometimes overwhelming for people who don’t know all the reasonings behind certain laws and that may discourage them from participating in the process.

Spielman said Lavi differs from other Jewish groups on campus because it is the first to tackle questions in Jewish thought. Lavi is not a political group. Instead, it chose to open itself to include a wide array of topics, Spielman said.

Gabay said she envisions the group to be a pluralistic organization.

Gabay also said she wants Lavi members to be able to discuss how the state of Israel affects people’s identities.

“It allows us to evolve in a way that is radically different than the past 2,000 years,” Gabay said. “It is allowing us to develop internally and is developing more as a united nation.”

For future events, Gabay wants to include movie screenings with discussions and food.


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