By Kat Riddler, Editor-in-Chief
Those who attended the Office of Student Life’s Leadership Awards program in April, saw the Jewish Student Association (JSA) take the stage to be recognized for the Best Cultural Awareness Program.
The purpose of JSA is to enrich Jewish life at UMSL through diverse programs and activities often coordinated with other community and St. Louis college organizations. According to their Triton Sync page, the group focuses on “Activities, programs, and resources will aim to provide undergraduate and graduate students with meaningful Jewish experiences in the areas of Social Justice and Service, Religious Life, Israel, Jewish Culture and Education, and Leadership Development.” While the student group is a faith-based organization, they are inclusive and welcoming of all students and faculty at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Rabbi Hershey Novack of Chabad said, “Generally speaking, the JSA was not a recognized student group at UMSL when we got involved. A professor named Susan Feigenbaum knew of Chabad’s accomplishments at area schools such as Wash U and encouraged us to create an on-campus presence at UMSL. We recruited Esty Munk who worked with the students and staff in the student affairs office such as Miriam Roccia to get the club registered and to implement student-driven programs for Jewish students and for the entire campus community, whomever is interested in learning about Jewish culture. The students are the best part.”
Chabad is an organization in St. Louis that offers support for JSA. Their mission statement is “guided by the idea that there should be a place whose doors are open to every Jew, regardless of background or affiliation. A place where questions are embraced and Judaism is celebrated meaningfully and joyfully,” according to their website. Novack offers support to Jewish communities and organizations on different campuses in Missouri. Esty Munk is the Chabad representative for the UMSL campus.
Munk described the JSA student group on campus. Munk said, “UMSL JSA is a club that celebrates Jewish life on campus through social, holiday and charity events.”
Munk believes that the rebooting of JSA came from the Chabad on campus and the Chabad on campus has made having a Jewish life at UMSL a major priority. Munk said, “I was hired by Novack to help Jewish students on campus feel heard, a part of the university, and feel a sense of Jewish life on campus. Completing these meant making sure there are events for them to attend, kosher food being available to them, and a person to contact if they ever needed anything. I quickly learned that reaching out to UMSL students was gonna be hard being that UMSL is very heavily a commuter campus. After much guidance from Chabad on campus we decided strengthening the JSA and its board was a huge goal, creating student and faculty relationships was another, and hearing what students need on campus was another.”
Munk said, “Last year when I started at UMSL, I had heard that JSA existed on campus but it definitely was not a recognized club on campus. When I came, the process of getting them to become a recognized club began. As of this past fall semester they were an official club and next fall they will have a full budget.”
Jew Fest was held on April 25 this year in the Nosh of the Millennium Student Center. Sydney Garrett, graduate, MFA, is the Vice President of the Jewish Student Association at UMSL. Garrett attended UMSL as an undergraduate and has been part of JSA since 2012. Garrett said, “Every spring the JSA hosts Jew Fest with the aim of celebrating and sharing Jewish culture with the UMSL community. Each Fest has its own theme with fun, interactive learning activities for UMSL students and faculty to enjoy.”
Last year’s theme was Sabbath and this year’s theme was Land of Israel. Munk said, “Jew Fest is a program that Novack thought of as a way of educating all students of JSA’s existence on campus and Judaism in general. The idea was to take ideas from Judaism and make a festival of it with food, activities and education.”
Munk remembered helping others to promote Judaism at UMSL. Munk said, “Just this past Hanukkah, I was contacted by a new student at UMSL who is a member of the PIKE house and realized that all the house had was Christmas decorations. He asked if I could bring some Hanukkah gear. Immediately, I spoke to Novack and he provided me with tons of menorahs candles–enough to provide students all around campus–and chocolate coins. We got some nice decorations as well. That sense of giving students a person to turn to, or in our case an organization to turn to, is what we are here for.”
JSA worked with the Catholic Newman Center on campus last year for the first time. Their collaborated program won them both the Best Cultural Awareness Program at the Office of Student Involvement Student Leadership Awards in April. Munk said, “Another major aspect of JSA and Chabad on campus is to spread cultural awareness, at the beginning of the year along with the Catholic Newman Center we help an event called ‘A Priest, a Rabbi, a Pastor, and an Imam Walk into the Pilot House.’ It was was a panel of all three faiths representatives being asked prepared and open to the room questions.”
Garrett said, “For the future, the JSA hopes to provide even more meaningful programs and resources to the UMSL Community.”
Munk said, “Chabad on campus really has an amazing outreach program that provides support and guidance for me as a worker but also for all the students they impact. I am so grateful to be a part of their team. UMSL has just been great to work with as well their goal of making every student feel integrated and accepted on campus really made it easy to find ways to make JSA work, they helped me in all ways.”
Students are welcome to like JSA on Facebook and follow JSA on triton sync. Students can email Munk at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Triton Sync: https://orgsync.com/72142/chapter