Being on a campus is like being in a constant search for an identity. We are all trying to figure out who we are and where we fit in the world.
This is even more the case for Jewish students. There is a sense on campus that there is no true Jewish community identity, something that unites us. Our lives are complicated by religion, tradition and Israel. We want to maintain some semblance of identity and at the same time, fit into larger campus life.
As a result, we spend an inordinate amount of time questioning ourselves and our own philosophies.
In the hyper-politicized campus world, it is easy to lose perspective and become bogged down in petty issues and emotionally charged hand-wringing that seem to define student life. After all, we are young and still maturing. It’s impossible to have a complete world view when one is just entering the real world.
It almost feels as though we’ve engaged ourselves in a cyclical guessing game trying to determine our own identity, and, in the process, we’ve forgotten that we have one, an identity forged through thousands of years.
The act of not turning away a stranger at your door on Shabbat – that’s what makes our community great and that’s what makes our community strong. That is our identity. We are a great people who not only survive, but thrive and make our society great.
You walk around the campus of Carleton University. You pass the Minto Building and the Azrieli Theatre, two structures built thanks too the donations of Jewish community leaders. You walk and you wonder where the spirit is on campus.
The Jewish fraternity in Ottawa – my fraternity – has had a philanthropy chair each semester I have been involved with it, and every semester it has been an afterthought, a nuisance. It’s rarely discussed at meetings and I cannot think of one truly successful philanthropy event we have run in my five years on campus.
The Canadian Federation of Jewish Students has a nearly impossible task of trying to unite a community with no shortage of opinions, spread across the country.
The best way to do that would be to have a nationwide Jewish philanthropy event. I’m not talking about money; instead imagine a joint effort coast to coast – not a single conference, but a charity push with an ambitious goal to strive for, not in terms of money, but rather of hours.
The greatest gift people can give is their time and their effort. In our community, we think it’s about becoming stronger internally but there is a disagreement on how to achieve this. Do we build a big tent or focus on inspiring the small number of already mobilized students. The answer is to focus on things that unify people.
Consider this a call to action for Jewish student leaders to make philanthropy a key value this semester. Whether it be raising awareness of the genocide in Darfur, supporting cancer research or working to fight poverty, it’s time to think big and reach out.
My fraternity is planning a Skate for the Cure event in support of breast cancer research, to take place on the Rideau Canal. Meanwhile, the Jewish Students’ Association in Ottawa is planning a campaign to get the Carleton cafeteria to donate its excess food to those in need.
And while the association has no philanthropy position on its executive, the issue is usually discussed at meetings and it appears that it will have a more prominent position on the agenda next semester.
The foundation has already been laid.
The more I live, the more I realize that life is about so much more than the issues we drone on about day after day. Life is about being able to change someone else’s life for the better. This should be our identity.
Sure, we have a political agenda – every community does – but we should be defined by what our core principle is, and that core principle is helping our society become stronger. If our community on campus embraces this, we will be stronger than ever internally and externally.
All we have to do is be true to our identity.