Religion. Never in a million years did I ever think I would become more connected with my Judaism. I came from a household of Russian/Ukrainian parents where religion was almost non-existent because of the restrictions on Jews in the former Soviet Union. We celebrated Passover and Chanukah once when I was five. I remember celebrating New Year's as a child, with a tree and the ever-symbolic Grandfather Frost, common non-religious Russian traditions.
I found it hard to explain how I lost the little faith I was exposed to. Recently, during an interview, I was asked, "How did you get interested in becoming more involved with Judaism?" My response usually is, "I am communal Jew." However, I found myself blurting out, "I lost Judaism, and now I found it here at Loyola."
Not many people know about my past. In fact, I refused to talk about it once I got to Loyola. I transferred here in the fall of 2013 -- was it important to really talk about my story? Now more than ever, I think college is the time to talk about one's story.
From my birth till the age of 10, I was raised in a psychically and mentally abusive home. My father subjected me and my entire family to cruel and traumatizing situations. I recall as a child praying and pleading for all the issues to end. I prayed every single day but nothing ever happened. At such a young age, I questioned why God would let bad things happen to good people. I didn't hear a response, and I lost my faith. When I was 10, my father kicked my mother and me out of our home. I thought, "Was this a miracle or God's way of punishing me?"
I reached my adolescence feeling that Judaism was never a part of my identity growing up. I had such a negative perception about religion, and I loathed the sight of any practice. I naively thought to myself, "Why would they do this? Nobody is listening!"
Fast-forward 11 years. I am now the vice president of Hillel at Loyola, the Jewish student organization on campus. How? Honestly, it was all an accident. I walked into Hillel because a friend invited me, and the rest is history. I felt welcomed, and I was able to participate in Jewish holidays and cultural events and communal activities. I felt uncomfortable at first, but once I let my barriers down and encountered each ritual with an open mind, I became more comfortable, and I fell in love with the Jewish community. As I became more involved, I began to really understand the importance of embracing my religious identity.
I began my position in the fall thinking about ways to improve Hillel's visibility on campus, and I ended up focusing most of my time building a sense of community among the students. They come from all backgrounds. Each student possesses amazing tenacity and spirit toward Jewish life. They have made me nothing but proud. Siting in Hillel and seeing the soon-to-be leaders and the freshmen having fun makes me hopeful for the future -- a future without anti-Semitism, a future where the Jewish population at Loyola will no longer be one percent, and most importantly a future where we become not just classmates, but family.
Hillel at Loyola
I am also proud of Loyola's diversity. Twenty-seven years ago Loyola reached out to The Hillels of Illinois to begin a permanent collaboration. Wanting to promote a diverse community that promoted mutual respect and knowledge, and encouraging a broad understanding of faith as a part of a transformative educational mission, Loyola brought Hillel onto campus. This bold initiative move for diversity and supporting religious and cultural pluralism is one of the school's biggest strengths.
Every attempt to diversify the campus comes with it the beauty of differing opinions and beliefs, so it comes as no surprise that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has reemerged on campus.
This time, the resolution brought to the Student Senate requested the university divest from all companies (such as Boeing and Raytheon) that are militarily complicit in human rights abuses toward Palestinians. Their main target, as usual, was Israel. Not Iran, not Syria, not Lebanon, but Israel, the one and only true democracy in the Middle East. The resolution passed 16-15-2, and a week later the Senate President signed it.
I, along with other anti-divestment advocates, stood up in front of the Senate and told them the ugly truth. With each passage of divestment on college campuses we see a surge of anti-Semitic activity. If the basis of the student government is to promote safety and ensure the well being of the community, how does legislation advancing personal political beliefs accomplish this?
Various student groups have ignored any collaborative efforts to do bridge-building with Hillel. We have been ignored on issues of dialoguing, and some students have had anti-Semitic comments made to them. Even so, we sat through the last two Senate meetings where senators completely disregarded any existence of anti-Semitism on campus.
Students on college campuses find themselves inundated and indoctrinated with one-sided information. It is up to us as Jews to combat this misinformation and educate the community about what Israel does and does not do. In continuing to educate students regardless of the outcome, and standing side by side, I wholeheartedly believe our Jewish community has grown closer because of this experience. I am incredibly proud of my community. We didn't give up and we fought 'til the end, as we will every single year if we have too.
I am proud of my efforts to bring our small yet strong Jewish community together. Watching students experience their faith reminds me of how I found my faith again at Loyola and gained something that can never be taken away from me -- a stronger cohesive identity.
As I reflect on my time at the university, I can only thank Loyola for everything it has already done to foster a Jewish community here, and I am confident that Loyola will focus on its recruitment efforts to insure that Jewish life will continue to thrive here.
Adam Mogilevsky is a senior at Loyola University Chicago where he is the vice-president of Hillel and an interfaith advocate. He will be graduating with a B.A in History in May.
To read more posts in the "Repairing Our World" blog series, click here .