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URJL experiences meaningful spring semester after COVID challenges

The Fall Holidays concluded with the return of UR Hillel’s annual apple-picking trip to Carter Mountain ahead of Sukkot.

Despite the ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19, Jewish Life at the University of Richmond enjoyed a meaningful spring semester of programming that concluded with Senior Shabbat on Friday, May 5.

While the Omicron wave on campus in January and February made for a slow programmatic start to the spring semester, the University’s high vaccination rates and other mitigation strategies allowed for more in-person programs in late February.

Building on enriching Shabbat meals and dinners in the early part of the semester, the Hillel student board created multiple dynamic opportunities for their peers to connect, learn, and celebrate together.

Highlights from a busy second half of the semester include a two-part series on “Understanding Jews, Judaism and Antisemitism,” a special “Shared Legacies” Shabbat and viewing party in partnership with the Federation, and joyous Purim and Passover observances.

The series on Judaism and Antisemitism provided a pilot group of students and staff a chance to learn more about Judaism, the history of antisemitism, and modern antisemitism using video clips, texts, and conversation to help all interested to learn about Jews and antisemitism.

Developed by Hillel International, the curriculum was thought provoking and will serve as part of continued educational initiatives alongside a Wellness course – “Jews, Hatred, and Hope” taught by Jewish Chaplain Josh Jeffreys.

The screening of “Shared Legacies” on Feb. 25 and the group viewing of the talk-back on Feb. 27 led to rich conversations among Hillel students.

Several students expressed shock at how much they learned through the film, and those in attendance for the talk back were inspired to continue the conversation as the board plans for Fall 2022.

UR Hillel students at the 2022 Passover Seder.

Finally, Jewish students and peers enjoyed a series of fantastic holiday programs on campus for Purim and Passover. The Hillel board hosted a Mardi Gras-themed party for Purim including spirited games, Purim-inspired mock-tails, and New York hamantaschen that University Catering sourced for the occasion.

This was followed by a costume Shabbat and kicked off a month of Passover opportunities like a chocolate Seder, Bagel Brunch and Learn, a “Prince of Egypt” movie night, and finally the First Night Seder on campus for more than 70 students.

Dining also made Kosher for Passover-style food available at no extra cost and sold Matzah ball soup across campus for the duration of Passover.

Hillel marked the end of Passover with a special Havdalah and Hametz event, which also served as a study break ahead of finals.

With summer now underway, the new Hillel Student Board has turned their attention to Fall 2022 programming. The 9-student team contains 6 rising sophomores, a product of the strong engagement with first-year students in 2021-2022 and hopefully a sign of the program’s successful development of young leaders.

For more information about Jewish Life at the University of Richmond, please contact Josh Jeffreys, Jewish Chaplain and Director of Religious Life, at JJeffrey@richmond.edu.