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Jewish Student Collective hosts Judaism 101

On Wednesday, April 11, the Department of Spiritual and Religious Life in partnership with the Jewish Student Collective hosted “Judaism 101” where students were encouraged to ask anything and everything about Judaism.

The event began in the chapel with a Yahrzeit candle lighting ceremony in honor of Holocaust remembrance day. The participants were led by Rabbi David J. Cooper of the Kehilla Community Synagogue.

Afterward, a panel was held in the faculty lounge where Cooper was joined by Mills students Ari Yovel and Laurel Levitan, both of whom are in the JSC. The panel was moderated by Aviva Wilcox, and the questions ranged from anti-semitism to the role of women in Judaism. The panelists challenged each others’ ideas leading to a lively discussion. The attendees and panelists explained the saying “two Jews, three opinions,” emphasizing the excitement and debate that goes on in Jewish communities.

The questions began with the role of women in Judaism.

“Jewish law is not static,” Yovel explained. “The Jewish narrative is shifting.”

Cooper discussed the importance of the first female rabbi and how there were no specific Jewish laws against female rabbis, but the acceptance of the first female rabbi signified an important shift in the Jewish law. Although Judaism is matrilineal, it exists within a patriarchal society. Orthodox Judaism follows matrilineal descent, in that anyone with a Jewish mother also has Jewish status.

“You are in the middle of the change,” Cooper said.

Explaining the history of social changes within the Jewish community and how the community is seeing changes and changemakers currently.

The next question shifted the conversation to anti-semitism.

“Anti-semitism is a unique form of oppression,” Yovel said, “It is being otherized.”

The question addressed how to confront anti-semitism in left-leaning spaces and the ways in which Jewish identity is perceived, specifically at Mills.

“The most intense forms of anti-semitism exist in institutions,” Levitan said. Anti-semitism often goes unrecognized by the majority especially when the Jewish communities are small.

Yovel spoke about the expectations for the Jewish community in social justice movements such as performing their allegiance. The fact that Judaism can be an ethnic group, religion, and a culture makes the experience of Jewish individuals very unique, and positions itself in a unique spot within social justice movements. Where Jewish voices may go unheard due to an individual’s whiteness or the association to whiteness that the Jewish community has.

“[Jewish] tradition compels us to dedicate our lives to other people’s struggles,” Yovel said.

The need for an understanding of various cultures, including Judaism, is necessary to create change within social justice movements.

Judaism as an identity and its association with whiteness is what concluded the panel discussion.

“While I am a minority in some ways in my identity, other ways I am received and have access to privileges of the majority. I notice that bringing up and trying to relate my experiences as a minority as someone who is Jewish is not always received as such,” Levitan said.

The JSC welcomes all of the Mills community to learn about Judaism.