Asalaamalekum! That’s how we say “hello” here in Senegal where I have had the privilege of spending my summer. My name is Gabby Posner, and I am a rising third year in the Batten school, studying Public Policy and Economics. I ventured to Senegal this summer to co-lead a research project with my friend and research partner, Grace Wood. Together, we are qualitatively researching poverty as it affects female-headed households in Senegal. Our research aims to discover if, as claimed, female-headed households are less poor, and, if so, what economic, social, and political factors could account for this. Our daily routine involves taxiing to an interview spot for the day where we then conduct individual interviews and focus groups. At the start of next semester, Grace and I will analyze our data under the advice of our faculty advisor, Professor Jeanine Braithwaite, to prepare to present our findings at the Southern Economic Association conference in November!
Aside from the academic side of my experience in Senegal, I have found a deep appreciation for the Senegalese people and culture. In preparation for my trip, I went through countless measures to find a Jewish community in Senegal. As nerdy as it is, I always remembered the song from Hebrew school that says, “wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish!” Well, I can assure you that the song is unfortunately mistaken. I have been unsuccessful in my search, which included contacting the rabbi of the Chabad of Central Africa, meeting with past Jewish Fulbright scholars, and asking around in the local population. For the first time in my life, I am the only Jew in my neighborhood — maybe even in the country — as Senegal is about 95% Muslim.
I can genuinely say that this experience has only further benefited my ability to immerse myself in the culture, while also reflecting on my Jewish identity internally. I live with a Muslim host family, with whom I often discuss (to the best of my French-speaking ability) the close similarities between Judaism and Islam. As the first Jew they have ever met, I have the great responsibility of accurately portraying my own community of Jews back at home, in the rest of the diaspora, and in Israel. For example, when I first told my family that I am Jewish, they did not understand how I could be Jewish and American (as in not Israeli). Even as a Jew, I find immense value in participating in the Islamic traditions practiced by my host family. During Eid al-Fitr, the last day of Ramadan, I spent the entire day celebrating with my host family while wearing the traditional Senegalese dress that I had purchased with my host aunt the day prior. No matter where I go in this world, my Jewish identity will always come along with me. This unique quality is a true gift and a source of pride for me. It has allowed me to build a relationship with Senegal, not only as a researcher, an American, and a UVA student but as a Jew and most importantly a WaJew!
Hello, my name is Sophie Dornfeld and I am doing an internship at Hadassah Hospital in Mt. Scopus. At home, I am half way through my four-year Nursing program, so it made sense to volunteer on the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and the Maternity Ward here in Jerusalem. For almost 100 years, Hadassah Hospital has been a leader in the Israeli medical scene and has paved the way for new medical inventions and quality healthcare.
This week, I have spent the majority of my time in the NICU assisting wherever I can, whether that be feeding the babies, giving baths, cleaning up, filling syringes with sucrose, or folding laundry. My favorite task is to be an “on-call cuddler,” where I basically walk around and soothe crying babies.
I also love interacting with the babies who are just a few hours old and witnessing happy parents embrace their new children. Every day at Hadassah is filled with new adventures and things to do/see. Today, I got to feed a baby who weighted 2.3 kg, which is just over 5 pounds. Holding a baby that tiny in my arms really made me think about how precious life is and how incredible it is to have the opportunity to welcome newborns into this world and care for them.
Working on this unit has also allowed me to improve my Hebrew, as the nurses encourage me to only use Hebrew in order to better communicate with families and coworkers. It is such a fun and happy place to work and I always leave with a huge smile on my face!
This summer I’m interning in New Delhi, India with The Mrida Group, a social enterprise dedicated to development work throughout rural India. I am working with their Earthspired brand, which seeks to develop market linkages for rural farmers in order to create and sustain livelihood practices. This experience has been incredible, challenging me in many ways. From learning to navigate a new workplace culture to understanding how to travel throughout India, each experience has truly taught me new knowledge about this country and about myself.
Many times throughout the summer, I have been placed in what would typically be considered “uncomfortable" situations.” 118 degrees Fahrenheit weather, absolutely hectic traveling situations, and many different social norms have often created times where I was, let’s just say, less than thrilled. Yet, I have really tried to take each of these experiences in stride, not because I want connect more deeply to my own thoughts and feelings, but because I have an opportunity to connect with those of others. Indeed, being in this new environment has given me a unique opportunity to grapple with the all-important word— perspective.
And oddly enough, I think the place that has taught me the most about this word at UVA is Hillel. It would seem that Hillel might not be the place most conducive to showing me different perspectives on a variety of topics…everyone does happen to be Jewish! Yet, I often feel, with the grounding of our Judaism allowing us to connect, the people I’ve met at Hillel have showed me diverse perspectives far beyond what I expected. From different conceptions about Israel, religiosity, and traditions to broader thoughts on UVA and general life advice, the friends I have made through Hillel have truly exposed me to new ideas much different than my own. Having a basis that we can connect with on a deep level allows us to delve into intense conversations that I have found to be incredibly impactful. This exposure has helped me navigate the tough situations I have faced here, and is something that I will forever be grateful for.
Thinking ahead to this school year, I am so excited to come back to Hillel. I plan to continue my involvement in many different aspects of Hillel, and hope to try something new as well. As always, it will be exciting to meet the new Jewish students, and hopefully I can help them navigate their first year experience, both with Hillel and with UVA at large. It’s incredibly comforting to know that I have Hillel to come back to when I return to Charlottesville, and I’m looking forward to another fantastic year.
Q. How do you get over 50 students up a mountain on a Sunday morning in the rain?
On erev Rosh Hashanah, First Year Connection organized the first outing of the year- apple picking on Carter’s Mountain. Some go for the socializing, some go for the apples, but if we’re being honest, most go for the Apple Cider Donuts.
A record-breaking 60 first years signed up for the event. All weekend it looked like the rain might get in the way of this annual tradition. The number of drivers needed continued to increase, but with the rain pouring, there was a good chance only a few students would show up or the event would need to be postponed. Things were looking grey.
Nevermind that, Craig and Gabby, our FYC Co-Chairs charged on. Ten Upperclassmen convened at Ohill with their cars, and to everyone’s delight, most of the first year students decided to go too! Cars filled up and the group headed to Carter’s Mountain to celebrate the sweet new year and explore a new place with new people.
But this event wasn’t just impactful for first years.
On the drive there, fourth year Annie Weinberg shared advice and stories with the first year girls in her car. They asked about classes, social life, Greek life, and interesting organizations to get involved with at UVa. It was a chance for Annie to reflect on her time, and a chance for the new students to get excited for the next four years.
Matt Keitlemann (Fourth year) reflected:
“I got to come back to the first activity I did with Hillel as a first year and meet all the new first years and hang out with my upperclassman friends.”
The mountain was quiet and covered in fog, but that didn’t damper the spirit. The group of 60 played a competitive game of “rock-paper-scissors” to get to know one another. There was cheering and chanting and laughing. After grabbing their bags, they braced the muddy hills with enthusiasm and began picking their apples.
Of course no one would leave hungry! This was the first year that Hillel was able to purchase apples and donuts for the whole group. After students lined up to weigh their apples, they sat together and enjoyed the freshly made, hot apple cider donuts on a cold rainy day.
Q. How do you get over 50 students up a mountain on a Sunday morning in the rain?
A. Teamwork, positivity, and a lot of donuts.
JLC participates in UPC Springfest
Every year, the University Programs Council (UPC) hosts a ginormous event called Springfest in which there is food, music, and games. This year, UPC invited different student organizations to have a booth in which to interact and engage with students attending Springfest. JLC decided to teach and share an old Jewish tradition, the one in which you carry a note in each pocket; one saying "I am but dust and ashes", the other saying "The world was created for me". We explained that this idea promotes keeping balance in life and reminding yourself to be humble at times, and proud during others. JLC had blank wooden disks and sharpies for people to write something on each side, to remind you to stay balanced. JLC shared this tradition with several hundred UVa students, and they loved this project and got really creative with it. Students wrote things like, "I am great at so many things ... But I have a lot to learn", "Stay patient ... Stay ambitious", and even "Lemons ... Lemonade". It was so fun to see how people interpreted this old Jewish tradition into their modern lives.
JLC participates in Day of Smiles
Every year, the ANGELS Society (a secret society on Grounds) invites different organizations to participate in Day of Smiles; to do something that will somehow spread joy throughout UVa as finals season is approaching and people are becoming more stressed every day. This year, JLC purchased 250+ fun little toys and gave them out throughout the day on South Lawn, where many students pass throughout the day to get to and from classes. Every student that took a toy visibly smiled and was truly excited by a small toy that brought them back to their childhood. It was truly a fun way to lift the spirits of UVa students, leaving everyone involved smiling.
Before Passover of 2015, Sam’s family hadn’t hosted a seder since the passing of her great grandparents. They passed when she was twelve, and it wasn’t until she moved from Long Island to Charlottesville for her first year at UVa that Sam really began cultivating a relationship with her Judaism again.
By her second year at UVa, she’d become a regular at weekly Shabbat dinners and services. She’d gotten involved with Israel-advocacy, and had made a close circle of Jewish friends within the community at Hillel.
“I was the one in my family to really start reviving those traditions,” she said. “I felt like some of my family’s Jewish identity died when my great grandparents did.”
That’s why during Passover of 2015, Sam decided to bring her dad and brother to the Brody Jewish Center’s first night seder. She wanted them to see firsthand the relationship she’d been building with her Judaism and with the Jewish community.
And when thinking back on that seder, Sam remembers watching it click for her dad, and remembers how affected he was by the experience. “During that seder, I think his life really changed,” she said. “After the seder, he said to me ‘I get it, now.’ He understood why I embraced this lifestyle.”
“Hillel brought Judaism back to my dad,” Sam said. “It was possible because of this beautiful, warm community. He felt welcome and comfortable.”
Three years later, Sam says she and her dad light candles when they’re together Friday nights. They’re going together on his first trip to Israel, and she’s celebrating Passover with other Hillel at UVa alum in D.C. She says her dad is on his own path with exploring Judaism now, and is grateful that Hillel at UVa could help build that bridge.
We then headed to Negril and first stopped at an overpriced souvenir shop. I found a Jamaican Red Sox hat, so I was satisfied. Our next stop was Margaritaville. The drinks were unsurprisingly overpriced, but Sophie and David each managed to win a free margarita. The water was a bit chilly as the weather was overcast. After a couple hours we headed to a local restaurant for lunch. Sean was brave enough to order curried goat while the rest of us opted for more familiar meals. He described the goat as "chewy." Sophie also asked that I mention her fish was served whole including the head and spine.
Once lunch ended we headed to the self-proclaimed world famous Ricks Cafe. Not only were the drinks overpriced, but they were also poorly mixed. David again won a prize for knowing Red Stripe Beer's motto: what's good. Unfortunately, this prize was not a free drink. The cafe also has a few cliff jumping spots, with the highest one topping out roughly forty feet. Only Matt, David, and I took the plunge from this height. I landed firmly in my butt on the first jump and even after ten hours it still hurts. For the next few hours, we passed the time relaxing, eating, swimming, and half-heartedly dancing. Throughout the course of the trip, it has become evident that I'm clearly the best dancer.
Anyways, we stayed at Rick's for the "world famous" sunset, which was tremendously underwhelming. We then raced out of the cafe to beat the masses of people leaving as well. The day ended with a going away party hosted by Mr. Brown and the host families at the Association of clubs. We discussed our favorite moments of the trip and ended the night with singing and dancing. It was a memorable way to end our stay in Jamaica.
This blog post was written by Sean Epstein.
Today was Friday, and it was our last day volunteering at Petersfield Primary & Infant School. I took a risk and volunteered myself to help out with the infants. I had worked with young kids in the past in my temple during Sunday school, but that was only for two hours once a week. This was a whole new level, as I was with three year olds for about five hours. We reviewed the letters of the alphabet, days of the week, and simple shapes. During the afternoon, we painted and created art. To my surprise, they allowed to me to keep all of the art work that we worked on as a class as a thank you gift. Throughout the day, I had flashbacks to my own time in preschool, which was a nice distraction from the work that is building for me when I return to UVa.
The school presented the group with multiple thank you gifts as a send off. Both grade 5 and 6 classes wrote personalized thank you notes to us, and we received a thank you from a group of students that we befriended throughout the week.
After four days at the school, I can say that our work was beneficial, but I also questioned if I personally was helpful. Yes I helped paint the wall outside the school and interacted with the students. But oftentimes I felt when I was teaching math to grade 4 or doing practice tests with grade 6, if my presence was more of a hindrance than help. In the math room on Monday, I was unsure if my teaching was getting across to the children because I felt they were more distracted with a foreigner being inches from them than trying learning math. On Thursday, I attempted to help grade 6 with a practice science GSAT test, but I am horrible at science and for a few questions I didn’t know I tried to guess, but I knew the students knew I didn’t know the answers. Regardless, I felt my most important contribution was just being there with the students and interacting with them on a human-to-human level, rather than a teacher-student level.
In the evening we had Shabbat services and dinner. We studied passages from Exodus for Torah study and had a small Shabbat service before devouring a beautiful feast prepared by each of our host mothers. The table was filled with chicken, salad, wine, potato salad and, of course, rice and beans. After Shabbat, the group chilled at Mama J’s house for the evening, where we all mentally prepared ourselves for going to Negril and relaxing at the beach during our last full day here.
Today’s blog post is courtesy of David Magat.
After our first day off in Westmoreland, we started the morning off with breakfast with our host family before leaving for our third day at the primary school. At this point, we have all gotten a chance to experience different parts of the school and got to choose where we would assist. Sama and Michael worked alongside the infant school while Sophie and Sean assisted the 6th graders who are preparing for their GSAT (high school entrance exam). Meanwhile, Colton, Matt, and myself continued to paint the wall a beautiful shade of blue and gold.
After our day at the primary school, two great things occurred. First, we were informed of our win against Louisville #GoHoos! Secondly, we were told that we were allowed to go to the local pool. Unlike pools in America, this manmade pool was filled with fresh spring water that was constantly flowing. There was a rope swing attached which allowed for endless fun and taught us that some are not as strong as others.
Following the pool, we went back to our host families for dinner followed by a game of soccer with some of the kids in the neighborhood. Lastly, we went back to the AOC for the Petersfield town meeting where we got to share with the community our experience so far on this trip. I think I can speak for everyone when I say I have had a blast on this trip but am sad to leave in a few days.
Today's post is from second year Birthright Intern Colton Sheehan.
Today we took a slight hiatus from working at the school and instead went on a few excursions. We got to sleep in a little before heading off to Bluefields Organic Fruit Farm, where we received a tour from the owner himself. For anyone skeptical of the powers of organic food, the man was 54 but looked half his age and had the nimbleness of an alley cat. He showed us around his garden, which seemed to be chaotic compared to the well ordered farms we are used to, with different plants strewn about haphazardly. He explained that this was a way of resembling nature, a common theme his farming strategy. As we walked among the trees and bushes, he pointed out some of the crops we may never have seen before, such as the nasberry or the Jamaican Apple. We got to try many of these fruits, as well as a coconut fresh off the tree and sugar cane cut from the stalk. To finish the tour, he showed us the view from the top of the hill, an incredible spectacle and the most common draw of tourists to Bluefields. Check out the organic farms Facebook page here:https://www.facebook.com/bluefieldsorganicfruitfarmtours/
We spent the next few hours of the day lounging at Bluefields beach, a local beach that is seldom visited by tourists. The weather was immaculate, the water was marvelously blue, and the sand was perfectly white. It honestly looked like a scene from a postcard. Unfortunately, barely anyone was able to escape the harmful rays of the sun, so we all look a bit more red than we did yesterday. Luckily some still had aloe Vera stalk from the organic farm to rub on their sunburn.
While at the beach, we had a long conversation about the idea of “voluntourism” and our definitions of service. For those who may not know, voluntourism is the intersection of volunteering and tourism, in which participants spend their vacation completing volunteer activities while also engaging in tourism (such as going to the beach). There has often been debates about whether or not voluntourism is beneficial, as it takes jobs away from locals and replaces them with potentially unqualified tourists. Objectively, our trip is considered voluntourism, so we had a debate amongst ourselves to determine whether or not we believed we were having the most positive impact we could on the community in which we’re volunteering. And honestly, we generally felt like we really aren’t benefitting the school in the greatest way possible by entering their classrooms and taking over for teachers, which is what we have been told to do. However, I personally feel that what we bring isn’t just the physical manpower, but rather the cultural exchange that comes with immersion. That is a large part of the service we are providing and it has a large impact on the young impressionable kids that probably do not meet many Americans. Even a small interaction can make a big difference.
After the beach we went back to have dinner with our host families. We had some down time which I spent playing soccer in the street with some locals. Then we went to a presentation about Rastafari, a religion practiced by some Jamaicans that originated from an Ethiopian King. Finally we ended the night with a culinary arts demonstration, as many of the host mothers taught us how to make the dinners we’ve been receiving over the past few nights. Of course, this involves more eating, as the food we made had to be consumed. Afterwards we went home for the night and prepared to go back in the classrooms the next morning.
Thanks for reading and we’ll be back tomorrow with another blog post! Lata!
The Brody Jewish Center, Hillel at the University of Virginia, is the focal point in a renaissance of Jewish life for the 1,800 Jewish students on Grounds.