Throughout midterm season and amid many Jewish holidays, Jewish students have connected with their identities and found a community at Penn.
Penn students have gathered to celebrate the Jewish High Holidays — Rosh Hashanah, which took place from Sept. 25-27, and Yom Kippur on Oct. 4-5 — as well as most recently, the weeklong holiday of Sukkot, which celebrates the harvest in many ways, such as shared meals and personal reflection.
College sophomore Ilan Schwab said a large part of the High Holidays for him involved dinners with his fellow Jewish students and sharing ideas on what the Torah meant to them.
“Sukkot celebrates Jewish unity,” Schwab said. “What we are trying to do is have gatherings and mitzvahs together, to make things fun.”
Normally, College sophomore Evan Golinsky said that he would celebrate the High Holidays at home with his family. However, going to the Chabad House to celebrate with his friends has helped fill this gap.
“It’s a good way to disconnect [from school] and to get in touch with myself and my friends,” he said.
As a Philadelphia resident, College junior Ethan Soloway is able to go home for the High Holidays. However, he added that the events at Penn have created additional community and an experience that he would not have elsewhere.
Golinsky said that he has been going to the Chabad House for the High Holidays since his first fall on campus when he was a remote student due to the pandemic, and called it the most “wholesome and welcoming community” he’s experienced.
Several students spoke highly of the Jewish community at Penn and said it was especially strong compared to other schools. For Golinsky, it was ultimately the reason he chose to attend Penn.
“I have a friend who goes to Georgetown, and he is one of the only Jewish people he knows there,” Golinsky said. “It would be a little strange to not have a community of people like yourself around you,” he said.
Sthwab added that while Penn’s Jewish community is diverse, it is unified in its Jewish identity and authenticity.
“It was so great to meet Jews from all across the country and all across the world, and to see what they are looking for in life and what they want in Judaism,” Schwab said.
Golinsky said that while he's "not the most religious person in the world,” he feels that "going to Chabad sets me at a good middle ground. They engage me with parts of my religion and culture that I wouldn't otherwise engage in.”
Soloway agreed and said that despite not being very religious, he still finds the Jewish community to be extremely welcoming and a place of joy.
“This is a place where Jews from all walks of life come,” President of Chabad House and College junior Jake Frank said. Both Frank and Schwab stressed that there was no single type of person that made up the Jewish community at Penn.
An added highlight of the Jewish community at Penn, according to many students, has been the opportunities it provides to disconnect from the stress that schoolwork and midterms can cause, allowing them to focus on their religion and culture.
“The High Holidays are a nice time to disconnect from the stresses of being a student; on Yom Kippur I didn’t even touch my laptop or homework,” Golinsky said.
Although important, dinners are just one component of the Jewish experience at Penn, Frank said, Chabad organizes many other events including a trip to Israel and a visit to The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
According to Schwab, what makes Penn’s Jewish community special is its diversity.
“Even though we are all different, at the core we are all the same. At Penn, you feel that completion,” Schwab said.