2018-09-12 / Voice at the Shore

Stockton students return to find vibrant Jewish life on campus

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor


Stockton Hillel’s past Israel programming included a talk by Israeli Fashion speaker Liraz Cohen Mordechai last spring. The photo shows Mordechai (bottom row, center) with a group of students who attended her talk. Stockton Hillel’s past Israel programming included a talk by Israeli Fashion speaker Liraz Cohen Mordechai last spring. The photo shows Mordechai (bottom row, center) with a group of students who attended her talk. Jewish life at Stockton University got off to a strong start as students came back to school earlier this month, just before Rosh Hashanah.

New and returning students were greeted with many options for celebrating the High Holidays, including “student-friendly services” close to campus at the Chabad House and the option to attend services at local synagogues for free. Hillel and Chabad also jointly offered a Tashlich service at Stockton’s Lake Fred on Sept. 10.

Both Hillel Director Rachel Waldman and Rabbi Meir Rapoport, Chabad at Stockton director, anticipate a great year, with the many Jewish organizations on campus—including a new Jewish fraternity and sorority— working cooperatively to offer students more opportunities for participating in Jewish life than ever before.


Chabad at Stockton President David Vaknin is a founder of the university’s new AEPi fraternity. Chabad at Stockton President David Vaknin is a founder of the university’s new AEPi fraternity. Hillel and Chabad are also expanding their offerings, seeking to meaningfully engage more students in Jewish life, and to educate all Stockton students on Judaism and Israel.

Easy access to Jewish life on campus and in the community

This year for the first time in many decades, students can easily learn about the many facets of Jewish life at Stockton from a brochure put out by the newly formed Jewish Life Steering Committee at Stockton. The brochure, available through admissions and the information desk, highlights the many Jewish student organizations and academic programs available to students, including:

• Stockton Hillel and Chabad at Stockton.

•AEPi, A Jewish fraternity, which began on campus last year, and has inspired SAEPi, a brand new Jewish “sorority interest group.”

• The Sara and Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center

• Course offerings in Jewish Studies and Holocaust and Genocide Studies, including mention of the master’s program

The brochure also lists all the local synagogues by denominations, providing contact information for each, and dates of Jewish holidays and Jewish programming by both Hillel and Chabad.

Many programs this year— like the recent Tashlich program— are being jointly held by Chabad and Hillel. “We have been working together a lot,” noted Rapoport. “It’s really beautiful, the unity and community we have on campus.”

Hillel’s new Engagement Intern

Rachel Kern, a Stockton graduate and former Hillel president, will return to Stockton Hillel this year as its new engagement intern. Kern, who is now studying for her master’s degree in social work, is also graduate coordinator for the Office of Student Development, which oversees all clubs on campus.

Kern is passionate about Hillel and credits her Hillel involvement with changing the direction of her life. During her time as an undergraduate student, she changed her major from education to liberal arts with a concentration in interfaith advocacy and religious education, with a minor in Jewish Studies. She also interned with the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Raab/Goodwin Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Cherry Hill.

“Hillel has really been such an amazing part of my life that has given me so many opportunities, so much education, and so many of the friends I now have,” she said. “In this new position, I can help others to have this same experience. I want them to have the same great memories and opportunities that I had as an undergraduate.”

According to Stockton Hillel Director Rachel Waldman, who created the internship upon hearing of Kern’s return, Kern will help Hillel “build relationships with other student organizations, as well as with students who may not be involved with Hillel.” She will also draw on her past experiences as Hillel president to “help lead the student board and pass on some of her knowledge to them.”

“I see this as an opportunity to partner with other groups religiously, multi-culturally, and educationally,” added Kern. “It’s those kinds of partnerships that can create a new outlook. We have the opportunity to share our pride in our own religion, while learning from other communities and understanding what they’re proud of. There is value in having events where bonding can happen, where people can learn to understand each other.”

Providing an accurate portrayal of Israel

Last year, both Hillel and Chabad offered programs ensuring that students received an accurate view of Israel. The two organizations also succeeded in adding an Israeli flag to the many flying at Stockton’s Arts and Sciences Circle. Both organizations plan to continue these efforts.

“Israel News and Schmooze started last semester once a month,” said Chabad at Stockton’s Rapoport. “Students came in the middle of the day to a conference room, had lunch, got conversations going with faculty, talking about what is going on in Israel, what the media isn’t saying, giving an accurate picture. This is something we plan to do more of this year,” said Rapoport.

Chabad also plans to run an 8-week Sinai Scholars program discussing the land of Israel “in a fun, interactive, engaging way,” said Rapoport. The goal of this and other Israel programming is to “create the narrative that Israel is an amazing country with great people who do amazing things,” he added.

Hillel has long embraced this goal as well. Last year, several Hillel programs focused on Israeli culture, including food and fashion, and Israeli-style self-defense (Krav Maga). “We intend to continue and expand Hillel programming that highlights Israel’s many contributions to the world, particularly those that embrace and safeguard minorities that other nations in the Middle East marginalize or persecute,” said Waldman. 

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