Keene State College’s Jewish Club Hillel has been put on hold this year because of a lack of members.
KSC senior and president of the club Nathaniel Wolf has been a part of the club since he was a first-year student.
Wolf said the club itself is not primarily focused on religion, but more of a social gathering for students. “The club gives people who identify as Jewish a place for them to sit down, talk and catch up with each other,” Wolf said.
The club was a lot more active when Wolf first joined, he said, and ever since then attendance has been decreasing. Wolf said he expected the club to have a low membership.
“There just isn’t that much Jewish presence here in New Hampshire, and I probably know around four students on campus who are Jewish.” Wolf said the Hillel had been a small group of only six people his first year.
Wolf said the biggest issue is membership. He and the advisor of the club, Celia Rabinowitz, are working on getting a young core group of students that can take over once Wolf graduates.
“The club is important to me especially with everything going on in the world,” Wolf said. “Now more than ever it is important for a club like this to exist, so Jewish kids feel comfortable and have a backdoor that they can talk to.”
The advisor Rabinowitz, has been at KSC for four years and has been the advisor for Hillel for two years.
Rabinowitz said she has been involved with Jewish clubs since she was in college. “We had a very fun and active Jewish group on my campus and it meant a lot to me,” Rabinowitz said.
When Rabinowitz first got to KSC, she said she was friends with the old advisor and was invited to the club’s meeting. Two years ago, the old club advisor stepped down and Rabinowitz became the new advisor.
“We had a good amount of seniors in the club last year who graduated,” Rabinowitz said. “And since then I think we’ve been struggling in trying to develop some interest for other students to join the group.”
Rabinowitz said she thinks the reason students in college see less interest in religious clubs is because of freedom. “I realize some students come to college and want to take a break from their religion for a while,” Rabinowitz said.
Another thing Rabinowitz said is the school does not know how many Jewish students are attending KSC. “It’s probably not that many, but it would give the club a better understanding of who might join,” Rabinowitz said.
The club is important to Rabinowitz because she said she wants the students to have social opportunities with their Jewish identities. “My role as the advisor is supporting what the students want and I try to make some suggestions,” Rabinowitz said.
Right now there are no members of the club other than Wolf, but Wolf and Rabinowitz said they are trying to advertise for the club. “Hillel can mean lots of different things to people, it just depends on what people are looking for,” Rabinowitz said.
First-year student and double major in psychology and Holocaust and genocide studies Emma Marcus considers her Jewish heritage to be an honor and something very special to her. “My great-grandparents are survivors of World War II and my grandmother was born in Russia right after the war when the Jews were being heavily oppressed.”
Marcus said she considers her grandmother to be her hero. “She has been through hell and back just for the right to be Jewish, which has honestly inspired me to double in Holocaust and genocide studies,” Marcus said.
Marcus said she is more deeply devoted to traditions like Passover or fasting for Yom Kippur. “Overall I would say I am a very spiritual person and while I love being Jewish, I don’t necessarily practice the religion by going to the temple or through prayer,” Marcus said.
Marcus said she actually did not know of the Hillel Club until the interview. “I think it is great that there is a Jewish club on campus for students who can celebrate the holidays with their friends.”
For the most part, Marcus said she is comfortable with her religion but has noticed that some people on campus are uncomfortable with Judaism. “It wasn’t till I got to Keene that I felt I needed to be a little more reserved about who I told I was Jewish,” Marcus said.
Marcus said anyone she has ever heard make a Jewish joke probably does not understand how much the jokes offend her. “I do not directly experience anti-semitism but I do hear people make some pretty vulgar Jewish jokes and it definitely hurts.”
Marcus said she feels people have the wrong understanding of Jews. Marcus said, “I always knew that anti-semitism is very real but I wish I could tell everyone that we’re not that bad, we like good food, cherish family and know how to party.”
Matthew Kahlman can be contacted at email@example.com