USF Hillel Presents First Festival of Jewish Life – The Oracle

USF Hillel Executive Director Sylvie Feinsmith helped organize the event to celebrate Jewish culture and heritage at the Morris and Bertha Escoli Center for Jewish Campus Life. ORACLE PHOTO/ULIANA LEARNED

After years of hosting various events to honor Jewish culture, USF Hillel celebrated its first-ever Festival of Jewish Life on November 13.

The celebration, which brought together about 100 members of the general public and students, honored the Jewish community, according to USF Hillel Executive Director Sylvie Feinsmith.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for years,” she said. “I’ve been on our campus for eight years and always recognized that we needed a Yom Keyf, which is like a fun day in Hebrew. We needed something for the community to come together and just to have fun with.

“The timing is perfect because over the past month there has been such a surge in hatred of Jews in our country. Whenever anti-Semitism rises, whenever we feel marginalized, when we feel threatened, when we are upset or hurt, there is always a community. So what better time to get together and have fun. It worked perfectly.

Participants participated in activities from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Morris and Bertha Escoli Center for Jewish Campus Life. Activities included cartoon drawing, a photo booth and bouncy house, airbrushing of T-shirts, and various raffles and contests. For those looking to learn more about Jewish culture, USF Hillel also hosted Israeli food and jewelry vendors as well as educational speakers about Israel.

In addition to those coordinated by the students, Bulls for Israel, a student-run university organization, handed out pamphlets, flags, cultural artifacts and books to those who stopped to talk to them. Although not affiliated with USF Hillel, gift of life – a bone marrow registry dedicated to healing immune disorders and blood cancer – was also on hand to collect oral swabs from student volunteers.

For Sophie Roth-Knigin, a former USF Hillel leadership fellow and public health student, the Festival of Jewish Life was a way to bring the USF community together to celebrate Jewish culture and heritage. Regardless of identification, she said she views USF Hillel as a resource for people to learn about Judaism and how best to support Jewish communities.

“Personally, I was not brought up as particularly Jewish, but I have always identified as Jewish. And so coming into college, Jewish culture was something I was very excited to get involved in as a way to explore my heritage a bit more,” she said.

“What Hillel does a great job of facilitating is finding out what Judaism means to each person individually, because not all of us have a universal experience with our religions and culture. It allows us to understand what the journey is and what that path is for each of us.

Although she is not Jewish herself, physical education student Jennifer Lukowski accompanied her Jewish roommates to the celebration. After attending various cultural events with them, Lukowski said she was able to learn more about Jewish traditions and norms than she thought possible.

“I just wanted to know more about Judaism. I mean, I learned stuff in school, but I never had anyone I know who was Jewish,” she said. “So I learned a lot about their prayers and the things that they do and while they’re doing it, I don’t feel left out at all. I just kind of say my own prayer and kind of return that that they make.

The activities ended with two contests, an ice cream tasting challenge and a frozen t-shirt battle. Seeing students laugh and make memories with each other is Hillel’s vision, according to Sara Ingber, chair of the Hillel Council of Suncoasts, especially in light of a recent wave of anti-Semitism across the country.

“Anti-Semitism is always kind of something that we are aware of and aware of,” she said. “We always keep that on the back burner as much as possible because we’re not victims, we don’t teach our students to be victims.

“We want to give them the skills, self-awareness and self-confidence to come out when faced with something disgusting like this, and be able to resist. Being overly excited or emotional, but acting rationally and hopefully changing some hearts and minds. That’s sort of what it was all about today.

Looking ahead, Feinsmith said she hopes the event will continue on a larger scale, such as integrating it into USF Hillel’s annual Hanukkah party and expanding participation to more organizations. Jews on campus.

As awareness of Jewish culture and community continues to grow on campus, she hopes more students will feel welcome to attend USF Hillel events and visit the center, even if they don’t. are not Jews themselves.

“We may be a Jewish student center, but we don’t exist solely to serve our own people,” she said. “Personally and professionally, I believe that a healthy Jewish community depends on an overall healthy community.

“There’s absolutely no reason why we wouldn’t serve non-Jewish students. Be careful, we do not proselytize because it is against the Jewish religion. We don’t convert people and encourage people to convert. If I can create a safe space for a student, whether Jewish or not, it is my honor.

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