Of all the factors that go into choosing a college, you are probably just looking for a place where you can feel at home. At Amherst, we try to put community-building at the heart of all our programs. As a small but independent organization, directed by our students under the guidance of Jewish Religious Advisor/Hillel Director Rabbi Bruce Bromberg Seltzer, Hillel always closely reflects the background, interests, and energy of its members. Some things around here will never change-we will always hold Shabbat services and dinners, sit in our Sukkah, and get down at our annual Hannukah Party. But each year, we have the opportunity to choose a new focus for Jewish learning, to add yet another social event to our calendar, to get behind a different political issue.
Below are some frequently asked questions about Jewish life at Amherst. Don't hesitate to contact us with further questions…or let us know if you're coming to visit and want to drop by!
Q: What is Shabbat like at Amherst?
A: Shabbat at Amherst is a joyous combination of food, friends and prayer. Preparations begin around 3pm when the Jewish Cooking Collective, a constantly growing group of men and women who organize and cook Shabbat dinners each week, hit the Cadigan Center’s kosher kitchen. Some weeks Hillel hosts Shabbat services at 5:15pm. Students use Amherst College Hillel’s original prayer book, which supplements the traditional Shabbat service with explanations and reflections to include the varied perspectives of Hillel members. At 6:15 the Cadigan Centeer becomes filled with 20-40 students davening kiddush and scrambling for the free, gourmet kosher food. All of the students eat in the family-style dining room. Occasionally Hillel sponsors special event Shabbat dinners that include speakers or themes. In the past this has included TYPO-Shabbat (a variation of the college's Take Your Professor Out program), faculty speakers, and our ever popular Biddy Shabbat with President Biddy Martin. Students who are interested in Shabbat morning services can walk twenty minutes to UMASS Hillel (Orthodox and sometimes Conservative with a traditional chulent lunch) or the Jewish Community of Amherst (Reconstructionist with a light lunch) or take a free bus to Northampton to attend Congregation Bnai Israel (Conservative).
Q: Why is Amherst College Hillel so special?
A: Amherst College Hillel doesn’t just organize fabulous religious events, ranging from Shabbat dinners to discussions about the Jewish perspective on current political or social topics; political events, such as a talk about terrorism by NBC terrorist expert Steven Emerson; and social events, like pizza and Jewish movie nights and ski trips, on the Amherst College Campus. We also work with Jewish students at Hampshire College, Umass-Amherst, Smith College and Mt. Holyoke College to organize five college Shabbatons, Purim and Hanukkah parties and exciting social events. And with five colleges worth of Jewish events, there’s never a dull moment.
Q: How many Amherst students are Jewish? How active is the Jewish community?
A: Jews comprise around 10% of the student population. Around 20-40 people usually show up at the Cadigan Center for Religious Life on Shabbat, and many more people turn out for holiday celebrations, social events, and speakers. One of the unique things about our Hillel is that non-Jewish students frequently attend our events, making our community feel well integrated into the greater student body.
Q: Can I keep kosher on campus?
A: At Amherst, all students eat together in Valentine Dining Hall, which serves as a social nexus of campus life. Students who wish to keep kosher have two options at Valentine. They can arrange to have glatt kosher meals for lunch and/or dinner, or they can choose from among the many vegetarian and vegan meal options each day. There is a Kosher kitchen available at the Cadigan Center for Religious Life for students who wish to prepare their own kosher food. For Passover, Hillel provides Seders in the Faculty Dining Room and works with Valentine staff to serve catered and fresh Kosher for Passover lunch and dinner throughout the holiday. Dning service has also cooked Kosher meat and poultry for students who request it and is open to making other arrangements to serve a student's needs.
Q: How can I get involved in Amherst Hillel???
A: So glad you asked! If you are interested in doing more than just participating, we have a job for you! Once each year, we elect a new Board, and we encourage everyone to get involved-freshmen to seniors, ex-presidents of national youth groups to people who are new to this scene. During the year, we need lots of help planning and executing our programs. If you have your own idea for a program, drop by one of our Board meetings and help us make it happen.
Q: What opportunities does Amherst offer for Jewish studies?
A: With the College, the Religion major offers a concentration in Judaism, while the History, English, and European Studies departments offer courses with Jewish content such as Reading the Rabbis, The History of Israel, Jewish Writers in America, and The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of Yiddish Culture. Amherst students have the option to fulfill a 5-College major in Judaic Studies, taking classes at all five of the institutions in our Consortium. Nearby colleges and universities offer instruction in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Arabic; on campus, we keep up our Hebrew with a weekly Hebrew Lunch Table. In addition to our many educational lectures and workshops, informal night classes at the University of Massachusetts round out the Jewish studies offerings. The nearby Yiddish Book Center offers for-credit classes in Yiddish language and culture over the summer and some years during January Term.
Updated Spring 2014