Jewish leadership weekend starts tradition

Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel celebrates Havdalah, the end of Shabbat on Saturday with Lev Zuckerman, freshman in Engineering, Michael Kerendian, sophomore in Engineering, and another student at the Chabad house. Ned Mulka

Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel celebrates Havdalah, the end of Shabbat on Saturday with Lev Zuckerman, freshman in Engineering, Michael Kerendian, sophomore in Engineering, and another student at the Chabad house. Ned Mulka

By Marie Wilson

Two weeks before Passover, students from 12 universities gathered at the Chabad Center for Jewish Life for the first Midwest Jewish Student Leadership Weekend, an event meant to unite Jewish students for a time of leadership and celebration.

The dates chosen for the weekend, April 4-6, placed the conclusion of the event only two weeks before Passover.

“The important message (of Passover) is leaving Egypt, but also your spiritual Egypt, the walls and things that hold you back,” said Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, co-director of Chabad. “The concept of Passover relates to the conference because we relive it every day. Every one of us has personal walls.”

About 100 students gathered in a large, white tent outside of the Chabad house for the weekend.

Tiechtel said he thought the conference would appeal to all Jewish college students, but he knows it is unrealistic to expect everyone to attend.

Hamutal Ginsburg, sophomore in LAS, said she looked forward to meeting people from different schools and discussing issues relating to Jewish youth with them.

“I think it’s a cool idea that so many people from across the Midwest are coming to U of I to participate in our specific interests,” Ginsburg said.

Issues discussed at the leadership weekend included advocating for Israel’s existence, leadership on campus, relationships with others who share the Jewish faith and traditional teachings about the Sedar plate.

“It was more than I expected,” said Jeffrey Kirshner, sophomore at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“It was not just sitting around, but this was making friends for life.”

Kirshner said he thought many Jewish students would be interested in an event like this in the future. Tiechtel said he hopes to make this leadership weekend an annual event.

Although the weekend was planned by students at the University’s branch of Chabad, it was also sponsored by the group’s parent organization, the Chabad on Campus International Foundation.

Rabbi Moshe C. Dubrowski, director of operations for Chabad on Campus, said he hopes the first Midwest leadership weekend will leave those who attend with a memorable experience in their shared cultural and religious heritage.

“(I hope students learned) that Jewish life is fun and exciting and that there are many options and ways to incorporate Judiasm into modern-day life,” Dubrowski said.