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Photo from Michael Krone

From Sphinx to Kinoki, there are more than a dozen senior societies at Penn. In April this year, another was added to the list: Shamash Senior Society, designed to honor members of the Jewish community on campus. 

Senior societies are organizations that honor upperclassmen for their leadership and involvement on campus. Some have existed for decades, but in recent years, a collection of new societies have been established to recognize contributions within specific cultural and interest groups. 

Shamash, founded by eight current seniors in April 2018, is the latest example of this new wave of senior societies. It strives to follow four core tenets: impact, community, diversity, and service. It also aims to help seniors of varying experiences with Judaism find a new community in their last few months at Penn, co-founder and College senior Michael Krone said. 

Krone said the founders of Shamash want to make the group feel accessible for students from a range of backgrounds. Not all members were raised Jewish, but most have a connection to Judaism. 

“One of the core ideals of Shamash is bringing people of a variety of backgrounds and diverse connections to Judaism, which really intrigued me,” said College senior Alex Kalvar, who joined Shamash this fall. 

Co-founder and College senior Debbie Rabinovich said the founders promoted the inclusivity of the society through their laid-back recruitment process. In order to ensure that the application process was transparent, they made the society’s constitution available to everyone who applied. 

“When we were evaluating everyone, we were just looking for people who would be committed to it, understanding that it's senior year and people are really busy,” Rabinovich said. “We want[ed] to get people who actually cared about being a part of something new and exciting." 

Rabinovich hopes that Shamash will foster a community of leaders who might not have otherwise gotten to know each other. Through her involvement in Shamash as well as Cipactli Latino Honor Society, she said she has become friends with people who participate in markedly different activities than she does. 

“You form a new community around something everyone has in common, which is your culture and your interest,” Rabinovich said. “It's cool to make new friends senior year. I really love it."

Founders and members of Shamash also hope to give back to the community through engagement and service. According to the website, Shamash “invokes the name of the ninth candle of the menorah, which is used to kindle other lights.” 

“In Hebrew, [Shamash] stands for service, so it’s trying to emphasize the notion of service to the Penn community,” Krone said. “It’s symbolic and an element of Judaism that's pretty recognizable, regardless generally of your affiliation to Judaism or how you were brought up … so we figured that it would be an accessible metaphor and symbol for the group.” 

Plans for community engagement are under way. Kalvar, who is interested in becoming one of the society’s community service chair members, said they are in the process of assigning roles and coming up with service ideas. Rabinovich added that in the near future, members of the society hope to create spaces that attract Jewish students, such as hosting dinners and promoting service opportunities.

The future of Shamash remains to be seen, but both Krone and Rabinovich said they enjoy being a part of the society’s inaugural founding class and shaping its identity and values.

"This is year one out of who knows,” Krone said. “But the first step that we took is that we're now on the Wikipedia page for senior societies."