Getting to Know You: Q&A with KOACH E-zine Editors
New this month! What are Jewish college students thinking? Join us through journeys of the mind with our new KOACH E-zine Interview feature!
Name: David Schwartz
School: Washington University in St. Louis
Graduation Year: 2008
Major: Education, History
Minor: Judaic Studies
On Being Jewish…
Have there been any times in your life when you were really proud to be Jewish? When Israel won an Olympic medal.
Embarrassed to be Jewish? When a Jew shot Yitzchak Rabin.
What is your favorite thing about being Jewish? The prayers and music.
What Jewish customs do you miss from home? Getting blessed on Friday night (I have to content myself with “blessing vibes”), Havdalah, playing Kosher Hide-and-Seek with restaurant menus.
Do you find that your campus is accepting of Jewish students? Quite accepting.
How do you go about explaining traditions to classmates? It depends on the tradition and on the classmate. If it’s a fundamentalist Christian, my saying, “God said to do so in the Holy Bible,” works for them. If it’s a Muslim (like my roommate) and I’m explaining kashrut, I say “It’s like halal but stricter.” Generally, I try to stick to shorter explanations, unless the person really seems interested in finding out more about the custom.
As a KOACH Intern…
What is your role as a KOACH intern? I see my role as the KOACH intern and chair of the campus Conservative Minyan Committee to be a resource for other Conservative Jews on campus. I do this by talking with other students to discern their needs and trying to plan programs accordingly. I also have recruited other students who have an active Conservative background/interest to help plan these programs and to find the student leaders for our weekly Friday night services.
Would you recommend the program to others? Absolutely, particularly if you already intend to be active in your campus’s Conservative community. Then you can do what you would have done anyway with additional resources.
Do you play a role at your campus’s Hillel? What kinds of activities have you planned?
As the voice of the campus Conservative community, I represent us when there are meetings of the three denominational leaders to hammer out issues like leading Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals) on Friday nights. One of the more successful programs we’ve done is monthly Shabbat Minhah/Seudah Sh’lishit/Ma’ariv programs (afternoon and evening services, with a meal “sandwiched” in between). The cost is $50ish for food, finding a Torah somewhere, getting sufficient siddurim/humashim (or making copies), and finding leaders/readers. The benefit is drawing people who wouldn’t wake up on time for a Shabbat morning service and tapping into the experiences of Ramahniks and former USYers.
Other great activities have been a joint Break-the-Fast with the Muslims at the end of Yom Kippur, since Ramadan was in full swing; a PB&Jews program where we made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the homeless and peanut butter sandwiches with a wide array of toppings for ourselves; and the first egalitarian Simhat Torah celebration on our campus. Next semester, we’re doing a Chocolate Seder and a Latke-Hamantaschen Debate, where professors from the sciences and from the humanities/social sciences debate the merits of their respective food using any possible argument. We advertise for all of these activities via our Facebook group, "Conservative Jewish Students.”
The Power of Israel…
How do you connect with Israel, as an American Jew? I connect to Israel through my prayers, through my reading choices, through making Haaretz.com my homepage, and through birthright israel.
Do you feel that your birthright israel trip changed the way you think about Israel? Completely. There’s nothing quite like the experience of being in the places you’ve only read about.
For you, does being Jewish involve supporting Israel? Why or why not? For me as a history major, I would say that it does not need to, because many Jews historically have been against the existence of a political state of Israel. For my non-academic side, I’d say that while there are many portals for connecting to Judaism, Israel is a great one for uniting many Jews who might not always agree.
In the Future…
What are your personal goals? Religious? Professional? My personal goal is to be a mentsch. My religious goal is to help connect others to Judaism and my professional goal is to be a middle school social studies teacher, quite possibly in a Jewish Day School.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years? In five years, I see myself teaching. In ten years I see myself probably married. Beyond that, my crystal ball gets too cloudy.