Feuer is a junior rhetoric and writing major and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Being Jewish at Drake means being part of a community. Since my senior year in high school, the Jewish community at Drake has welcomed me. As an admitted student visiting for a weekend, I met Aliza Rosenthal, who was also Jewish. We connected instantly and corresponded throughout the summer. She answered all my questions about what it was like to be a first-year student at Drake, as a Jew and otherwise.
Having this Jewish connection before I even showed up on campus for Welcome Weekend helped immensely. I planned to get involved with Hillel, Drake’s Jewish organization. Aliza had made it clear; I had no choice but to join Hillel and to become a first-year representative. It launched me into a prolific involvement with campus activities and introduced me to the loving and supportive community Drake Hillel has to offer. The then-president and vice president of Hillel became my closest upperclassman friends, my role models as students, leaders and Jews.
Sometimes, it is hard to be a Jew at Drake. During Passover, the holiday that celebrates Moses leading the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt, Jews cannot eat anything that has wheat, yeast, flour, corn or beans in it for a week. For any Jew, let alone one that has a meal plan, this holiday can be tough to get through.
During my first year at Drake, my predecessors had finally worked it out with Sodexo to order kosher frozen dinners for Passover. Drake’s Jewish community was really excited to have more options for meals during Passover besides crossing our fingers for baked potatoes in Hubbell and fresh lettuce at the salad bar. On the first afternoon after Passover began (all Jewish holidays start at sundown), I was handed a frozen dinner in exchange for one meal. When I looked at the box, I realized it contained chicken enchiladas with beans. Tortillas contain corn and wheat, of course, and beans are not allowed during Passover. Sodexo had ordered us kosher meals, but not kosher for Passover.
With the entire shipment being no good, the students who had kitchens invited the first-years and sophomores over for meals and those with cars took the car-less to the Hy-Vee that has a Passover section. The Jewish community really comes together during the springtime each year for this celebration.
Those in apartments or houses annually invite regular attendees of Hillel events to come over and make kosher food for Passover meals together. As Jews on a campus with a relatively small Jewish population, we have to stick together.
The Jewish Community of Greater Des Moines also opens its homes to Drake students. Several Jewish families, particularly local Drake alumni, have a history of inviting Drake students to their houses for Friday night dinners. The rabbis at the reform temple and conservative synagogue do events with Hillel, invite us to services and make a point to say hello and welcome us whenever we attend events within the Des Moines Jewish Community. The places of worship allow students free admittance to events that they normally charge for.
I also work as a religious schoolteacher for the Jewish Federation Community School on Wednesdays and Sundays. In addition, two first-year students tutor people in Hebrew and assist teachers. A sophomore also serves as a regular substitute teacher.
There seems to be a theme to being Jewish at Drake — other Jews care. There is a common understanding and friendliness that comes with Hillel. We have a history of naturally mentoring other younger Jewish Drake students. During the process of self-reflection necessary to write this article, I realized I have begun to pay it forward within the Drake Hillel community. I have become particularly close to a first-year Jew and would like to consider myself a mentor to her.
While it can be hard to be a minority at a school as small as Drake, it can also be comforting. Celebrating Passover instead of Easter or Hanukkah instead of Christmas brings us together to love, to learn, to live and to pray as a happy little Jewish community.