Student Interviews

UF'S JEWISH STUDENTS

Picture of Adam Gerstenfeld

This is first year telecommunications student Adam Gerstenfeld outlook on Judaism in UF.

I am a Conservative Jew, which means I keep most of the major traditions of the Orthodox Jews like keeping kosher (Hebrew-only services), but drop some older practices, such as separating men and women at services and not using electricity on Shabbat.

My favorite Jewish Holiday is Rosh HaShana, literally translated as "Head of the year." We dip apples in honey to wish us a sweet new year! As a child, I found it difficult being left out of Christmas celebrations, especially because I didn’t have the support of my family

I consider myself incredibly lucky to study on a campus that has such a large percentage of Jewish students. But I am also blessed to see all of the diversity of religions on campus as well.

I think Judaism is changing. In America, more and more people are starting to switch to the reform denomination (the less strict faith), and are turning to intermarriage. I have nothing against marrying out of the faith, but the statistics show that children born of this partnership are extremely unlikely to continue following Judaism. I don't believe Judaism will ever actually "die out" by assimilation, simply because of how strong the community is, regardless of the strictness of practice.

Picture of Hannah Thaw.

Here is a Jewish freshman student Hannah Thaw's perspective of life in UF.

I love knowing that our school has such a large Jewish population. It's comforting to know that I can go to Hillel on Shabbat and there will always be people there that I can connect with. Last year I took part in UF’s Birthright trip to Israel. It was an amazing experience and I made lifelong friends.

My favorite Jewish holiday is Passover despite the special diet. I actually love matzah and all of the special foods we eat during that holiday. Back home, we always have a Seder before we eat and it always brings my family together.

I have never felt left out of Christmas and gifts. Judaism has so much to offer and I have never felt unsatisfied.

Picture of Stefani Pila.

Here is a personal testament from Stefani Pila, a fourth year University of Florida psychology student who is also active in the Jewish community on campus:

I am pretty involved in the Jewish community on campus. I am the president of Koach which the conservative group on campus and attend and plan Hillel events regularly. I really feel like Hillel is my Jewish home at UF and have made some of the best friends that I've ever had a result of it. I have also become more in touch with my religion as a result and have learned how to lead services and be Jewish in college and my professional life.

I did attend religious school for probably 8 years and was confirmed but I feel that I learned most of what I know about Judaism from my parents and grandparents and my time in my former youth group, USY. Being in USY really changed my perspective on being Jewish and now that I staff conventions and summer programs, I feel like I can pass along everything I have learned about Judaism to the next generation and help them on their Jewish journeys.

I feel that the religion is in some ways fading out with the high rates of intermarriage but at the same time, I see people becoming more in touch with their Judaism during college and even as they have families. I think on the whole we have either stayed at about the same level or even gotten a little bit stronger as people have learned how to incorporate Judaism more into their lives and their children's lives.

I definitely want kids and want Judaism to be a good part of their identity. I also want to marry someone who is Jewish (doesn't matter if it is Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or Reconstructionist) because I feel like Judaism is a big part of my identity and I don't know that someone who is not from that background would really understand that about me. I want my kids to go to Hebrew school, Jewish day and sleepaway camps, and be a part of a Jewish youth group.