Thursday, March 31, 2011


I need to give a big shout out to UF Hillel's Manoa board: Andrea James, Andrew Shaw, Jeremy Asher Dictor, Marisa Gottesman, Emily Sasser, Amanda Solomon, and Shelley Greenspan!

With their help we have beaten February's all-time high for hits on our blog at February was 1,411 and we are currently at 1,428 and climbing! Not to mention that this month we had spring break, which caused a huge slump in our traffic, we still beat our record. Thank you all for writing and thank you to everyone else for viewing our blog.

Also thank you to everyone on the staff at UF Hillel for contributing to this blog.

Rabbi Telshukin visit reflection

I have never felt more connected with being Jewish than I did last night. It may seem like an overstatement, but last night that was exactly how I felt. (Well maybe when I went to Israel for the first time).

Last night Hillel had the pleasure of hosting Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. He was just as intellectual and informative as I could ever have imagined. Having dinner with him was like being in the room with a modern day Maimonides. The topics he discussed seemed so simple and yet so thought provoking.

He discussed the power and necessity of forgiveness; something that seems so foreign at times. Yet, as we usher in Shabbos we remember that we each have the ability to start over. We can all be the people we want to be, regardless of what has happened the day before. As Rabbi Telushkin ended his lecture saying: “Be a better person tomorrow than you were today".

This post was written by our Shabbat & Holidays Chairwoman, Andrea James.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Israel stands strong amongst disgruntled neighbors

As part of my Comparative Politics class, I had to give a presentation on the democratization of the Middle East. My professor made it clear that he wanted me to focus on the countries that are currently going through the process or have potential. When I first signed up for this particular topic I did so with the intention that I would be able to hone in on Israel and it being the only democracy in the Middle East and when I found out what my teacher had I mind I was a little bit disappointed.

With the fear of jeopardizing my grade, I gave a presentation on Egypt, Jordan and Iraq and the various struggles they are currently going through. The dynamics of the Middle East are changing rapidly. While citizens of these countries feel the need to revolt, the Israeli government is strong and efficient because of the democratic standards it holds itself to.

During the question and answer part of my presentation one of my classmates asked how Israel fit into everything – and I was so happy that he did. I was able to confidently talk about the democratic government in Israel and the freedoms that the variety of citizens have access to. A few students were surprised, but to the majority of students in the class this was not new information. Honestly, amidst of the turmoil in the Middle East right now I am happy that Israel is able to be a democratic beacon of hope to its neighboring citizens during these uncertain times.

This post is written by Shelley Greenspan (

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hands-on Service, Philanthropy, Education, and Advocacy

Is one more important than the others?

Tzedek is loosely translate from Hebrew to “justice.” Does one type of activity to pursue justice matter more than another?

The Tzedek Team at Hillel does work in all of these areas.

Hands on Service: Girls to Young Ladies mentoring and recreational programs; Mitzvah Day

Philanthropy: Relay for Life (Bronze Team award); Challah for Hunger; Dolls for Darfur

Education: educational events on modern genocide

Advocacy: Challah for Hunger coupled with hunger relief efforts and Federal government petitions

A balanced program of all four service areas is vital to the success of attaining a goal for a specific issue, such as relieving hunger in Alachua County. Want to try it?

Hands on Service: sort food at Bread of the Mighty Food Bank or serve food at St. Francis House

Philanthropy: purchase challah on Fridays from Challah for Hunger (50% of all proceeds go to Bread of the Mighty Food Bank)

Education: Educate yourself and friends by reading the action plan to relieve hunger:

Advocacy: Write a letter to your commissioner or attend a city commission meeting.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Purim is not a one night stand!

Purim is not a one night stand type of event, but a string of events over an entire week.

I remember growing up baking Hamentaschen for weeks to sell for the biggest youth group fundraiser of the year, playing carnival style games at the Purim carnival and dressing up for the Megillah reading and shpiel. During the Megillah reading, I was the “stop-sign girl”. We had a homemade stop sign that had go on one side and stop on other. I was the one who flipped the sign to go when Haman’s name was read.

Why should Purim in college be any different?

This entire week was full of Hamentaschen bake-offs, a carnival on campus and costumes at the Megillah reading.

UF Hillel did not spend Purim inside Hillel. Instead, we ventured downtown to Mars for laser tag! The venue was awesome for a costume party for Purim.

Everyone schmoozed and ate homemade Hamentaschen while laughing at funny costumes. The Megillah was read and everyone booed and made noise with groggers upon hearing Hamans name.

There was plenty of beer so we could fulfill the mitzvah of not being able to tell Mordechai and Haman apart at the end of the night.

The added twist of playing laser tag on Purim really capped off the night. The idea was so different and just so much fun.

The adrenaline of running around in costume was hilariously entertaining. The event was a successful way to celebrate being Jewish with close friends.

This post was written by our Social Programming Intern, Marissa Gottesman.

Is Judaism a religion or culture?

Earlier this week, a friend and I were talking about the different ways Judaism can be viewed—is it a religion, or a culture? Are the Jewish people an ethnicity? etc. As with any group of people, there are certainly unique and shared cultural elements present in Jewish communities—which shift according to differences in time and space. But I see the cultural expressions of Jews as distinct from Judaism itself.

At this moment, I view Judaism as a path one chooses to take. For me, Judaism is a spiritual path guided by teachings of Torah and sacred acts of Mitzvot, in the context of a covenantal relationship with God. This is a very broad definition, giving latitude for various interpretations, while still defining some basic operating assumptions. I do think Torah and mitzvot must be part of the conversation in order to have a meaningful expression of Judaism. At the same time, one must not lose sight of their function as part of the great spiritual path, which ultimately brings someone to a place of greater clarity, compassion and understanding. Which is to say, “becoming more religious” must ultimately lead one to become an overall better person as well. If that's not happening, something is wrong. While it is possible to keep Kosher and still be a jerk—that’s not Judaism.

This is where the study of ethics comes in. For Judaism to truly be a compelling spiritual path, the whole system must be built upon a solid ethical foundation. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin has edited a fantastic multi-volume work on the topic of Jewish ethics. Rabbi Telushkin has compiled sources from all eras of Jewish thought that demonstrate Judaism’s great concern for living an ethical life. Most importantly, he provides specific examples on how one does so in the very real situations of life—following the Jewish principle that our values must be lived out in concrete action. It is a fantastic effort, and we have the great opportunity to meet and learn directly from its author, who will be speaking here at UF next week.

We at UF Hillel are very privileged to be welcoming Rabbi Telushkin to campus this Wednesday 3/30. Look out for more information through our weekly emails and Facebook page.

This post was written by our Jewish Learning Intern Andrew Shaw.

Relay for Life begins TODAY! So what do you relay for?

Relay for Life is an 18 hour event where teams compete to fundraise the most money for the American Cancer Society. UF Hillel, JSU, and JAM set a goal of $3,500 which we have almost achieved. Relay is non-stop fun, with themed track laps, a “Mr. Relay” competition (featuring Jeff Kaplan), and tons of prizes!

So some people relay to spend 18 hours with their best friends. Some relay in honor or memory of a loved one. To see what people relay for, visit the “I relay for” Facbeook photo album.

See you March 25 -26 at the O’Connel Center for Relay for Life. Begins at Friday at 5pm and ends Saturday at noon.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jewish Film Fest Update!

"Hey sideburns, you want some of this milk?" One of Mr. Jeffery Kaplan's favorite quotes from a very famous movie with a very famous Jew known as Adam Sandler. For the past two weeks the Gainesville community has enjoyed a repertoire of various Jewish films and actors.

The First Gainesville Jewish Film Festival has brought many new faces closer to the Hillel community with many positive things to say.

Jewish Gainesvillians are grateful to have their culture represented on the big screen. They are proud of who they are and feel more deeply connected to other Jews worldwide. Thus far we have enjoyed comedy, drama, and intense documentary. There are only 2 days left! Monday, March 28th is a night dedicated to Holocaust Remembrance. We will be screening A Film Unfinished and following this will be a discussion led by Professor Norman Goda, THE Holocaust Studies expert at UF. On the last night of the festival, March 29th, we will be screening a popular Israeli TV show known as A Touch Away. Our very own Rabbi Daniel will be speaking about his experiences as it relates to the tv show. The festival is at the Hippodrome Theatre downtown and films begin at 7 on both nights. The final two nights will be exciting, you won't want to miss out! The event is free to the public, so bring friends!