The College of William and Mary was chartered in 1693. Since then, Jewish life on campus has been difficult, if not scarce, at times. Students got together, met on occasion, tried to find rooms to gather in for holidays, and held occasional social events. Over the past few years that infrastructure grew into a stable and well-organized student organization. This year, Hillel at William and Mary began to actualize its potential in a substantial way.
With the completion of the Shenkman Jewish Center in November, Jewish student life at William and Mary has been completely transformed. Students are studying day and night at the center. Educational programs are happening weekly. Programs on anti-Semitism, Holocaust, Israel, philosophy, and history are occurring at a level never seen before on the campus. Social programs are able to take place as never before. Hanukkah, Purim, and Passover were celebrated as a student community, and every Friday night, students are enjoying a professionally prepared kosher Shabbos dinner.
Israel education and trip recruitment were also significant components of this year’s programming. This summer, more students are returning to Israel for educational trips and I will be leading my 41st Israel trip, taking 40 students to Israel on Birthright Israel.
The commonality of all of these programs and recruitment events is that everything happened at the Shenkman Jewish Center. One of this year’s many highlights was an ongoing program called “Challah for Hunger.” This national program was impossible for W&M students until now. The fully functional kosher kitchen allows students to work with the newly hired kosher chef and program associate, Meredith Mills, to make challah, hamantashen, Shabbos dinners, and many other programs related to food. Students always participate when food is included and now there is kosher food all the time at the SJC. This past year, on an average Friday night, 40 students participated in the Shabbos meal and 70 students partook in the Pesach Seder at the SJC. Witnessing three to four rooms in the SJC being used almost nightly, including students just hanging out, playing PS4, studying, cooking, or watching a sporting event is reflective of the feeling that the Shenkman Jewish Center is every Jewish student’s home away from home.
The SJC is the result of a very generous gift from Mark and Rosalind Shenkman and amazing cooperation from William and Mary’s administration, whose help and support allowed this project to happen. Over the next year, plans call for the program to expand on campus in a significant way, as well as for additional staff to be hired, including Israel and engagement interns.
Rabbi Gershon Litt
Rabbi Gershon Litt is the director of Hillel at William and Mary. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.