Jewish organizations bring in sweet new year

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins Wednesday at sundown, and for many students, it may be their first time celebrating away from home. But several Jewish organizations on campus are welcoming students for services and meals in the name of the new year.

University president Michael Hogan will attend Wednesday’s services at the Illini Chabad Center for Jewish Life.

Hogan said he appreciates the opportunity to learn about different religions and cultures to develop a more diverse campus community.

“The University of Illinois is committed to fostering positive relationships with all of our faith-based groups, and I know that Chabad is committed to the same,” he said in an email. “Our faith-based groups (are) an important part of our community.”

Following candle lighting and services at 6:30 p.m., a Rosh Hashana dinner will be served. Services at Chabad will continue throughout Thursday and Friday, followed by meals. These meals are provided free of charge, but attendees are strongly encouraged to RSVP on Chabad’s “website”:

Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, executive director of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, said he expects around 300 students and community members to be in attendance on Wednesday.

“Numbers are not what’s important, though, it’s not about 300 people but 300 individuals,” Tiechtel said. “I want every last student … to feel like they’re coming home.”

Tiechtel pointed out that since Rosh Hashana falls in the middle of the week this year, less students will be able to return home to celebrate with family and close friends.

Alexa Scrittorale, Illini Chabad vice president of communications, is a Florida native and does not have the ability to return home for most Jewish holidays. The junior in Media said while she misses her family, she feels that spending holidays with Chabad is like being at home.

“It’s such a great feeling to be here surrounded by your home away from home,” she said. “If there’s ever a time you can’t get home to your family … you always have Chabad and you feel so loved.”

“Rosh Hashana” means “head of the year” in Hebrew. The new year, and the ten days that follow it, leads to the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur. This time is regarded as a season of reflection and new beginnings.

For Illini Hillel’s new executive director Rabbi Rogerio Cukierman, his first High Holiday season at Hillel is full of new beginnings.

Cukierman said he is excited for the 250 to 300 expected attendees for services and dinner. Hillel will provide three services for students of Orthodox, Conservative and Reform sects of Judaism. He said this is part of Hillel’s pluralistic mission.

“We’ll respect who they are and never try to impose agenda on them,” he said. “We embrace them as they are and embrace their Judaism.”

Following services Wednesday, a Rosh Hashana dinner will be served. Services will continue for students of all sects throughout the week.

Registration and payment for dinner at Hillel is required. However, Cukierman said if any student is unable to pay, they are still welcome — they need only email the Hillel Center.

“All are welcome, it’s just the beginning of very fruitful Jewish year on campus,” he said.