Cal Lutheran needs greater recognition of Jewish holidays


Photo by Alexa Weisbond

A collection of various religious texts, including one Hebrew Bible, or Tanakh, is seen in the Wennes Interfaith Meditation Chapel.

Alexa Weisbond, Reporter

California Lutheran University should provide more recognition for Jewish holidays because it will help Jewish students form a community on campus that will allow them to feel at home while being able to make new friends and connections.

Growing up, some of the fondest memories I have are celebrating Jewish holidays with my family and friends. Whether it is dipping apples in honey during Rosh Hashanah, celebrating the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, lighting the menorah at Hanukkah or taking part in the Passover Seder, holidays are a time for Jews and non-Jews to come together, celebrate and spread joy with others. 

When people go off to college, not only do they carry the traditions they cherish with them, but they are ready to take their own experiences and teach others about their own culture and upbringing. 

I grew up in a Jewish household and am from a town where most people are either Jewish or are very familiar with the Jewish faith since almost everyone has attended a Passover Seder or a Bar/Bat Mitzvah service at least once in their lives.

When I was in the process of transferring to Cal Lutheran, I knew it was a university associated with Lutheranism, but since it was a faith-based institution, I assumed that there would be some celebrations on campus for Jewish holidays and traditions.

However, since I have been here, it has been very hard to meet other Jewish students on campus due to there being a limited amount of Jewish activities available.

Other local universities such as UCLA and CSUN are known for having quite active Chabad and Hillel clubs on their campuses and it was definitely something that I felt was missing at Cal Lutheran.

Establishing a stronger Jewish presence on campus would help Jewish students feel like they have a home away from home at Cal Lutheran, and feel like they are not alone.

Jewish holidays are very important because they bring together family and people in the community to reflect on their own lives and think about what they are truly grateful for. 

The Cal Lutheran website currently says that “high holidays are respected and a wide variety of events sponsored by our Hillel Club make it easy to feel welcome and to make new friends.” 

While there is a Hillel club that exists on campus, it is pretty inactive and does not host any meetings, as most of the people who used to be in charge of it have graduated.

Rachel Tahir, Cal Lutheran alumna and former Hillel club president, explained her experience trying to ameliorate Jewish life on campus.

“I just wanted to improve Jewish life on campus…I tried my best to keep things going…I had a Hanukkah event, it wasn’t perfect, and the only other Jewish person that came was my roommate, but it was still something. We were even able to have a local rabbi come,” Tahir said.

It notes on the Cal Lutheran website under the “Jewish Life” tab that “past events on campus have included guest speakers from the Anti-Defamation League, music performances, Holocaust Remembrance activities and participation in the Walk to End Genocide.” 

While those events sounded very interesting to me, they sadly have not occurred since I have attended Cal Lutheran. 

Even though Cal Lutheran welcomes Jewish students and offers a “Jews and Judaism” course (RLTH-374), there is still a limited amount of activities and events that take place for Jewish students on campus, especially in the case of holidays.

Senior Chana Ellenberger explained that she would like to see more Jewish events available to partake in on campus. 

“I really wish there were more Jewish activities. It would be a great way to feel more connected to my religion and culture while I was away at school, as well as get to know other Jewish students. Anything such as Shabbat, High Holidays, Hanukkah, Passover, would be great,” Ellenberger said.

Some students might want to take the day off for a holiday but are afraid to go to a professor alone to ask.

“Maybe have the campus ministry send an email out saying ‘these are the holidays if you want to take school off, let your professors know.’ We can see if there’s a way to involve a Rabbi or someone nearby to help. It’s useful knowledge to know that there’s someone there to advocate for you if you need that extra help,” Tahir said.

With support from Cal Lutheran, the Jewish students on campus could come together to figure out a way to get the Hillel club growing again and try to host some events together.

As it says under the “Diversity & Culture” tab on the Cal Lutheran website, “we welcome students of all faiths, sexualities, genders and backgrounds in order to foster a diverse, open-minded and challenging academic environment that will further your discovery of purpose.”

Visiting Lecturer Judy Battaglia believes that the campus community is overall very welcoming to students of different religious faiths, including Judaism.

“I do think that they are doing a good job of recognizing Jewish life on campus and the cultural diversity and tapestry of individuals, making room for an expansive view of religious pluralism,” Battaglia said.

Battaglia, who comes from a Jewish background, noted that she would be honored to be the Cal Lutheran Hillel club’s faculty advisor if they decide to get up and running again.

It could be beneficial for Jewish and non-Jewish students on campus to come together to plan more meaningful gatherings and events to celebrate our culture, because, not only can it help bring fellow Jews together, but it can also help us share the traditions that we hold so close to our hearts with other students who may not know anything about Judaism.

“There are more Jews at this school than I realized, so it would be great if we could all get to know each other and have a safe space to be a community,” Ellenberger said.