By Erin HarperFor Mitzpeh@Mitzpeh

This university’s Hillel is creating a series of events in correlation with Earth Day to encourage students to help out in their community.Photo credit: Maryland Hillel

When the COVID-19 pandemic forced religious institutions to close last year, it left students struggling to find ways to stay connected to their community virtually. Now, students are beginning to get vaccinated, organizations like Maryland Hillel are working to host in-person events for this university’s student body. 

“University organizations holding in-person events is a really good idea and is necessary for moving forward, as long as people are following the proper guidelines,” said Scott Sandor, a sophomore neuroscience major and current mashgiach (a supervisor of kosher food establishments) of Kedma. “[I don’t think it’s] healthy for students’ mental health to continue holding events virtually.”

Last week, Maryland Hillel hosted a series of in-person and virtual events in celebration of Good Deeds Day, an international initiative in which hundreds of thousands of people came together to volunteer in their community and help others. 

This week, Hillel will host a pre-Earth Day cleanup. The event, which was previously canceled due to inclement weather, will now be held on Earth Day, April 22, at 4:30 p.m.

The clean-up, held in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, will provide students the opportunity to show love to the campus community by cleaning up the areas surrounding Hillel.

“We want to tie in Earth Day, good deeds and nicer weather,” said Olivia Hazlett, Maryland Hillel’s springboard social justice fellow. “We’d love to have anybody and everybody help to clean up the community that we all share.”

The main clean-up areas surrounding Hillel include a large stream located on Mowatt Lane up to Terrapin Row. Last semester, Hillel hosted the same cleaning initiative during Yom Kippur.

Around the time of the Jewish High Holidays in the fall, the Tashlikh prayer is celebrated symbolically by throwing bread into the ocean, representing a repentant of sins. Hillel decided to do a “reverse-Tashlikh” to represent the community taking their sins out of the water, according to Hazlett. 

Close to five bags of trash were picked up between the three students who participated in the event, and this semester, because of the change in weather, Hazlett expects to see a larger volunteer turnout and hopefully less trash.

“It was an easy and impactful thing to do for our community, so I’m bringing it back,” Hazlett said.

The pre-Earth Day cleanup will be open to all students and residents of the community who would like to participate. To keep within the parameters of the state’s social distancing guidelines, participants will be required to wear masks and will be spread out throughout the area. Hillel will also provide trash bags and gloves for everyone participating in the event.

“I think it’s great that Hillel is hosting a pre-Earth Day clean-up,” said Ayelet Fried, a freshman undecided major. “It’s great that Hillel is having in-person events because people need a pick me up as the semester ends!”

For students who participated in Good Deeds Week virtually, Maryland Hillel hosted several different events including a Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration for Israel’s independence day, celebrated on April 14 and 15, in which students signed up to receive a falafel box.

Hillel also created a game of Israel Jeopardy on April 15, in collaboration with Terps For Israel, so students could test their trivia knowledge of the country.

As the academic year winds down, Hillel will continue to create virtual and in-person events for students, including an April 23 picnic and Shabbat, in which the first 150 students who sign up will receive a to-go food box gifted by Maryland Hillel donors.

To Hazlett, having these events helps maintain the campus community and allows students to connect with others during these tough times. “I think [holding in-person events] provides a sense of community,” she said. “The world really is interconnected and we can help each other out so having a sense of helping and building the community is really important.”


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