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Chaverim hosts Jewish Cultural Week

Ariel J. Richards
Chaverim hosted Jewish Culture Week from April 5 to April 13. Photo by Ariel Richards.

Chaverim, the Jewish student organization at Grinnell, hosted Jewish Cultural Week from April 5 to April 13 this year. The event included a week’s worth of student-led campus events promoting and celebrating Jewish culture, intellectualism, food, identity, tradition and customs. This series of events was planned with the intent of placing tenets of Jewish life at Grinnell on full display for all students and faculty on campus. The week included lectures and Q&A panels with Grinnell professors Elliot Ratzman, religious studies, Katya Gibel-Mevorach, anthropology and American studies, and Josh Marshack, anthropology, social gatherings involving Jewish food and arts, a screening of the film “Uncut Gems” starring Adam Sandler and a Shabbat table centering Jewish spirituality and social activism.

The planning for these events began earlier this semester when Lila Podgainy `23, president of Chaverim, found inspiration while searching through archived S&B articles and discovered a similar event had been hosted in the past. Chalutzim, (the previous name of Chaverim) hosted Jewish Cultural Weeks in the ’70s and ’80s to promote Jewish culture, food and thought beyond just the spiritual focus found at weekly Shabbat gatherings on campus.

“The goal was for it to be less about religious life because the events Chaverim already puts on weekly events centered around Shabbat, a religious occasion, so we made none of the events about religion. They focused more on aspects of Jewish culture, food, crafts and our way of life,” Podgainy said.

Associate Chaplain Rabbi Susan Rheins echoed Podgainy’s sentiments on the importance of engaging Grinnellians in events expressing a focus on the Jewish culture, stressing how “Jewishness” encompasses cultural, spiritual, intellectual, language, lifestyle and culinary elements.

“While Chaverim planned a fabulous week of varied Jewish cultural activities and events, Jewish culture happens every day, everywhere,” said Rheins. “A goal of this year’s Jewish Cultural Week was to involve the entire Grinnell College community in experiencing Jewish culture.”

One consideration Chaverim made when planning events was how to most effectively engage both Jewish and non-Jewish audiences in their events. One of the ways this was done was by representing Judaism as an intersection in many facets of everyday life at Grinnell. Nora Paul `22, Chaverim board member, reiterated Podgainy’s and her fellow event planners’ points on variety.

“The wide variety of events are recognizing and celebrating not just a narrow view of what the Jewish community and experience looks like on campus,” she said. “What we represent as a community of Jewish students is very wide and its different parts encompass everyone who wants to be involved.”

Zoey Nahmmacher-Baum `24 attended multiple Chaverim events throughout the week. A Jewish student on campus herself, she said she finds it difficult to maintain a consistently strong connection with her religion. There are no synagogues or Jewish Community Centers in Grinnell and, besides Shabbat table and some holidays, there are very few places or events in Grinnell to connect with Judaism.

“Having Jewish guest speakers on campus as well as seeing my professors in panels about Jewishness are really empowering and it’s awesome to think how we’re able to have that kind of a community out here,” she said.

One such Grinnell speaker was Gibel-Mevorach, a Jewish Israeli citizen and panelist on the April 12 Jewish Diversity and Inclusion Q&A. She spoke about how Jewish identity and scholarship are not monolithic and how they transcend all boundaries: social, cultural, religious, racial, ethnic, etc.

When asked how groups like Chaverim can help create spaces for Jewish life on campus, she said: “A Jewish presence in general and a Jewish Studies framework in particular offers curricular, intellectual diversity across almost every discipline and therefore addressing the institutional omission of this presence is an imperative. … Cultural events are wonderful supplements to academic courses and scholarship included in Department and Concentrations as well as interdisciplinary curricular projects.”

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