Regardless of faith, students participate in Hillel events, groups

Ashley Lau

Sarah Mumma attends Shabbat services every Friday evening, regularly baby-sits for the rabbi on Sunday nights, and helped serve Seder dinner in celebration of Passover.

Mumma, a Weinberg senior, is not Jewish. In fact, she said she considers herself a devout Catholic.

“I know a lot of non-Jews would feel really awkward about going to Hillel and would feel very out of place, but that’s probably because they’ve never been there,” said Chris Eckels, a Communication junior who is also not Jewish. “The Jewish community on this campus is so accepting, and you don’t have to be Jewish to be involved in it.”

Mumma and Eckels are two of many non-Jewish Northwestern students actively involved in the Hillel community.

Many students, regardless of religion, are attracted to Hillel’s welcoming environment and well-organized activities, Rabbi Josh Feigelson said.

“We don’t have a mission of evangelizing or prophesizing,” said Feigelson, the Campus Rabbi at Hillel. “Jewish life is much more than practicing religion. It’s about the culture, the food, the people.”

In addition to hosting regular Friday night Shabbat dinner, Hillel encompasses 18 student groups and sponsors schmooze magazine and Birthright trips to Israel. The Speakers Committee at Hillel has also, most recently, helped bring comedian Andy Samberg as a guest speaker. The programs and activities offered through Hillel are more structured than most religious groups on campus, Eckels said.

Eckels grew up as a Unitarian Universalist in Utah where the Jewish community was small. He looked forward to meeting people of different religions at NU, he said.

“I did have Jewish friends before I came to school here, but not very many of them,” he said. “It was actually something that I was really excited about when I first got here, that I made all these new Jewish friends. … I enjoy Jewish people.”

Eckels currently serves as the financial director for NU’s Jewish Theater Ensemble, a student group supported by Hillel. About half the executive board consists of non-Jewish students.

“There are a lot of people involved in the group who are not Jewish,” Eckels said. “That’s one of things that I really love about it. It’s got a very specific mission statement, but it’s also extremely wide open to anyone who wants to get involved.”

Medill sophomore Naadia Owens, who also participates in the Sheil Catholic Center and Reformed University Fellowship, said JTE gave her an opportunity to get involved with the Hillel community as a whole.

“For other religious groups, people who are not a part of that faith do not feel a need to go there,” Owens said. “I’ve been invited to many Shabbat dinners and participated in the ‘Bread Binge,’ where we all had cakes, cookies (and) delicious breads before Passover.”

The involvement of non-Jewish students in the Hillel community benefits both Jewish and non-Jewish students alike, Feigelson said.

“When a Jewish student needs to explain what a Passover Seder is, or what a Shabbat dinner is, it forces the Jewish student to learn the significance and get in touch with the importance of the practice,” he said.

Feigelson also attributes the increasing acceptance of different religions to a rise in mixed-religion families and an increase in comfort with the idea of multi-faith or multicultural groups that did not exist in the past.

“Being a religious person, it’s nice to talk to people at all different levels of religion,” Mumma said. “Judaism and Christianity have a link … The more involvement you have with a religious group, the more informed you are.”

Hillel provides students of every religion an opportunity to become involved with activities and programs, Eckels said.

“I’m in Hillel every week,” he said. “I’m not Jewish, but that’s OK; I can still drop in and say hi to Rabbi Josh.”

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