Students interact with each other as Rabbi Dr. Yossi Kastan leads a discussion on self-empowerment. Nick Albicocco/Mitzpeh.

By Nick Albicocco
For Mitzpeh

Maryland Hillel received a visit on Feb. 25 from Rabbi Dr. Yossi Kastan, who spent an hour empowering students with a discussion about courage and leadership, overcoming fear and perfectionism and acting yourself.

The event marked Kastan’s first speaking appearance at a university, and he said he came to meet and engage with alumni, as well as talk to future Jewish leaders about authentic leadership.

Kastan handed out a double-sided sheet at the beginning of the discussion that featured excerpts from the Book of Genesis. The excerpts revolved around an interaction between God and a naked Adam, and the students eventually paired up and discussed times in which they previously felt naked or afraid.

The rabbi shared a story from a few months ago about how he felt “naked” because he showed up for a night of dinner and ice skating in casual clothing, only to see everybody else in suits and dresses. Kastan admitted that he hid in his car embarrassed for an hour but eventually overcame his fear.

The first of three exercises on the sheet that Kastan handed out asked students to watch a video of a conversation between Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Brené Brown and then write down whether they had ever felt shame or fear that forced them to strive for perfection. Kastan then segwayed into “positive behavioral psychology.”

In this exercise, students shared moments where they felt shame and how they responded to that moment. Kastan spent nearly 10 minutes discussing the intricacies of “triggers,” “targets” and “responses.”

The discussion concluded with a brief talk about courage. Students used their example from the second exercise and answered how they would respond if that specific situation arose again. At the conclusion of the talk, Kastan received a loud ovation from the packed audience.

Many of the students in attendance were impressed with Kastan.

“I enjoyed the whole thing. I liked how it was presented and how it was more interactive with getting us to think about each point and then going on to give an explanation beforehand and after,” said sophomore geology major Jeremy Kardon.

Aryeh Roberts, a sophomore philosophy major, shared his favorite part of the talk, saying, “He talked a lot about not only what we feel, but why we feel what we feel.”

Sophomore Letters and Sciences student Uri Farber enjoyed the connection with students that Kastan displayed, and said, “I really appreciated how he talked about connecting [and] working with students on emotional intelligence.”


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