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August 9, 2018 10:29 am

At Princeton University, Jewish Life Is Thriving

avatar by Jacob Isaacs

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Dod Hall at Princeton University. Photo: Joe Shlabotnik.

The following was written as a response to The Algemeiner’s 2018 list of the most challenging North American campuses for Jewish students.

Jewish life at Princeton University is thriving. Every week, nearly 300 students attend Shabbat dinners between Chabad and the Center for Jewish Life. Nine out of Princeton’s 11 eating clubs have a Jewish student representative who plans regular events for holidays, including Pesach seders and dreidel tournaments. There are at least two student trips to Israel each year. And, only two years ago, close to 1,000 Princeton alumni came back to campus for the university-organized L’Chaim Conference, which celebrated 100 years of Jewish life at Princeton.

These are just a few examples of the strong and vibrant Jewish community at Princeton. Much like campus culture at large, Jewish life at Princeton is warm, inviting, and intellectually stimulating. Students have the ability to tailor their involvement in ways that align with their unique academic, religious, and personal passions. Rebecca Sobel ’19, student president of the Center for Jewish life, describes Jewish life at Princeton as “dynamic” and “filled with people who care deeply about Judaism and act upon their beliefs in diverse ways.” While highlighting its welcoming and supporting nature, Sobel also says that the community “constantly challenges you to think critically about your values and encourages you to continue learning and growing as much as possible.”

One of the truly distinguishing features of Princeton’s Jewish community is its commitment to service. As current Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber once noted, “Princeton University has a longstanding commitment to service, reflected in Princeton’s informal motto — Princeton in the nation’s service and the service of humanity — and exemplified by the extraordinary contributions that Princetonians make to society.” Whether it is through Habitat for Humanity trips run by the Center for Jewish Life or food drives for the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen organized by Chabad, Jewish students are devoted to serving their local and global communities.

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This commitment to helping others manifests itself most noticeably in the way Jewish students care for each other and the undergraduate student body at large. There are two particularly salient examples which highlight this. The first was the establishment of an anonymous support hotline by Shana Salomon ’18. Called the Princeton Peer Nightline, this student group (staffed by trained undergraduates) provides an empathetic ear to students facing any number of issues from academic stress to personal difficulties. The second was the crowd-sourced funding of urgent medical treatment for a Jewish Princeton student in need. The community threw its full support behind this and did its best to make a difference.

Being part of the Jewish community at Princeton means surrounding yourself with some of the brightest and nicest people around. In describing the richness of Jewish life, Rabbi Eitan Webb, one of Princeton’s Jewish chaplains and director of the Scharf Family Chabad House, said, “whether it’s sharing magical Shabbat dinners with friends, coming together as a community to support others, learning more about our religion, or celebrating all kinds of events and holidays, Princeton University is the place to be for Jews of all backgrounds looking for a home away from home.”

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