By Yelin Jung
For the Mitzpeh

Jewish students at this university spread their voices about Judaism, identities and struggles in Sermon Slam hosted by LAVI UMD at the Stamp Student Union Thursday night. About 100 people attended the event to listen their stories related to this year’s theme, “Shema: Hear Our Voices.”

Sermon Slam was a Jewish spoken word and visual art display event founded in 2013 in Philadelphia by David Zvi Kalman.

“We really wanted the event this year to be about hearing different voices. We focused a lot on diversity in different slammers, that everyone share a different story about what it means for their voices to be heard in Judaism,” Pamela Kekst, one of the organizers and sophomore psychology major, said.

The other LAVI organizer, freshman psychology major Talya Gordon, wanted to create a place to share personal experiences in a cultural and creative way.

“The goal of this event is just for people to feel and express their own personal Jewish journeys through slam poetries and art,” Gordon said.

The room was filled with finger-snapping whenever audiences sympathized with the nine slammers’ stories.

Moshe Klein, a sophomore government and politics and economics major, emphasized the importance of breaking the safe zone and finding a new one in his narrative.

“I am a committed, observant Jew who believes in the necessity to leave my comfort zone and engage with the world—even when it is difficult, and to care about greater society, even when it is easy not to,” he said.

Attendees observe artworks "Silent Voice" by Zev Shields (left) and "The Voices in Our Head" by Dene Gershkovich (right), after the event. Yelin Jung/Mitzpeh.
Attendees observe artwork after the event. Yelin Jung/Mitzpeh.
"Silent Voice" by Zev Shields (left) and "The Voices in Our Head" by Dene Gershkovich (right). Yelin Jung/Mitzpeh.
“Silent Voice” by Zev Shields (left) and “The Voices in Our Head” by Dene Gershkovich (right). Yelin Jung/Mitzpeh.

Sophomore English major Jessica Morris was impressed by last year’s Sermon Slam regarding diversity. This year, she shared a personal story about her identity as a Jewish person living in the U.S. In her poem, she talked how she came to know and love Israel through a trip there.

“I was a freshman, struggling to find my place in the Jewish Maryland community, and I came to the event and thought ‘I could do this,’” Morris said in the booklet. “I’m excited to add my voice to the Jewish community here.”

The mix of humor and seriousness was the most impressive part of the slammers’ narratives, sophomore government and politics major Anat Berday-Sacks said.

“People say things that they are normally too scared to say out loud,” she said. “I think a lot of people are scared to do it, but they do it in anyhow.”

There were eight undergraduate students’ artworks exhibited in the room, and attendees enjoyed them before and after the slam.

Junior history major Miri Miller, who displayed her mixed-media painting “Sah-gol,” said she focused on the story of daughter of Pharaoh, who pulled Moshe out from the Nile River. She was inspired by Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” and Aaron Douglas’ paintings.

“[Douglas] does all this cool stuff with sound and painting, and I wanted to somehow convey the voice that was crying out in the painting,” Miller said. ”So I used some of the techniques that he uses in his painting to convey sound and voices in people crying out, to convey the similar things in my painting.”

Sophomore graphic design major Zev Shields said composition of art and slam poetry was his favorite thing at the event.

“I actually start crying at the last one [because] I resonated with that, my great grandmother had dementia,” he said. “I think that it’s very good to expand out into different cultural things such as slam poetry.”

Sermon Slam makes students not only feel connections to the Jewish community, but also listen to many different opinions, Kekst said.
“This event brings everyone together to listen to each other’s voices, so like ‘What is your connection to Judaism and how is it different with somebody else’s,’” she said. “It’s like celebrating diversity.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Zev Shields as Jeb Shields.


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