Students of religion: Observant undergrads practice faith in Foggy Bottom

Freshman Josh Bloomberg cannot swipe into his residence hall from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

It’s not that the freshman’s GWorld card doesn’t work – it’s because of the Jewish Sabbath. Along with a handful of other students on campus, Bloomberg is Orthodox, a strict sect of Judaism. During the Sabbath, he must refrain from any type of work, including the use of electricity.

A prayer for most of his daily activities is not unusual, Bloomberg said. Before eating, after eating and in the morning, Bloomberg recites various Jewish blessings.

“By saying those blessings it brings a lot of importance into everyday, mundane things,” Bloomberg said. “You realize how much people take for granted the things they have.”

Although often characterized as a secular, liberal campus, GW has a wide variety of faithful in its religious population – from Roman Catholic students preparing for the priesthood to those in the BaHa’I faith. These students lead an average college life but with a few adjustments.

Like Bloomberg, freshman roommates Daniella Isaacson, Elizabeth Elias and Dana Edelman observe the Sabbath and also follow the Jewish dietary law of keeping a Kosher kitchen, never allowing meat and dairy products to touch the same plate.

After the Kosher-friendly District Market grocery store closed last year, it became nearly impossible for GW students to buy Kosher foods using their GWorld cards.

Although the freshmen said D.C. and GW are not the easiest places to be Orthodox, Edelman said that their struggles are no different than any other college students’.

“I don’t think it’s an impossible challenge; you have to learn how to handle it,” Edelman said. “Instead of other students who come to college and need to learn to prepare dinner on their own, we had to learn how to be Kosher away from our parents.”

Sophomore Conrad Murphy also faces the challenge of living without parental guidance or supervision, a goal at times difficult to achieve while upholding the values of his Catholic faith.

“You have to be a lot more conscious about your morals at GW,” said Murphy, who said he is considering entering the priesthood. “No sex before marriage, don’t go out and party hard.”

A member of the Knights of Columbus, a fraternal organization for Catholic males, Murphy said he eases the pressures of college temptations by surrounding himself with friends who uphold morals similar to his own.

“It’s harder when you first get here, but when you have a group of friends facing the same challenges around you, it’s a lot easier,” Murphy said.

Saif Inam, a junior, prays five times a day, does not eat pork and does not drink or go clubbing. As a practicing Muslim, Inam also strives to make his religion a part of his everyday routine.

“It’s almost a way of life, so hopefully everything I do is a reflection of that,” said Inam, who is president of the Muslim Student Association.

Freshman Dana Elmaghrabi also works to incorporate Allah into her daily activities as a Muslim at GW. Elmaghrabi has found GW to be very supportive of her faith and has become more religious at GW than she was at home.

“Islam is calming at times; I think it’s just this positive force in my life,” Elmaghrabi said. “I feel like I’m doing better now that I’ve become more religious.”

Inam was raised as a Sunni, the largest denomination of Islam, but he does not like to associate himself with any group in particular.

“I don’t go around saying I am a Sunni Muslim, because that just causes division and our similarities are a lot greater than our differences,” Inam said.

For freshman Azra Ali Hyder, who is from Saudi Arabia, being a Muslim is not about denominations.

“Muslim is a brotherhood, a sisterhood. I love it,” Hyder said. “I love how in Islam there is never an intermediary between you and God . its just you and God and no one else.”

Melissa Stern, a junior who said she plans to become a Presbyterian minister, incorporates religion into her everyday life in less conventional ways.

“I don’t think I’ve ever sat down and consciously prayed before,” Stern said. “I don’t think it’s about going to church every Sunday. I think it’s just a part of your everyday life.”

Stern grew up in a home of mixed religions – she has a Jewish father and a Christian mother – but she said religion was never the focus of her home life. Although she said she plans on going to the seminary, Stern does not necessarily want to lead a congregation. She might want to become an ethical advisor.

“My understanding of religion is a very personal thing,” Stern said. “I knew I always wanted to help people in whatever I did, and I realized the best way I could help people was to be a religious leader.”

Religious students on campus adhere to a wide variety of beliefs, but many like Murphy agree that being religious at GW is not easy.

“Everyone thinks I’m insane when they find out I want to be a minister,” Stern said.

Murphy and his friends have also encountered resistance on campus.

“My freshman year, Knights of Columbus helped out at the GWAids concert and when we did stage crew we heard someone snicker, ‘Oh, the God squad is here,'” Murphy said.

Isaacson, Edelman, Elias and Bloomberg all said they have not had trouble dealing with GW students and instead were frustrated that they are not recognized.

“It has been difficult at GW because . we don’t get attention,” Bloomberg said.

Marcus Rubenstein, president of a new interfaith organization called the Student Alliance for Mutual Ethics, is the first person to hold a multi-religious affairs position in the Student Association. He said the religious groups on campus do not just tolerate each other but embrace one another.

“The GW student population needs to know that we enjoy being together and that we work off each other,” Rubenstein said.

Rubenstein, who practices Reform Judaism, a more liberal sect of the faith, plans to become a rabbi, but studies all religions in order to gain the most insight.

“Although I am Jewish, my personal philosophy is that there’s wisdom in all traditions and faiths,” Rubenstein said. “There is so much genius and knowledge in every single one.”

The Student Alliance for Mutual Ethics plans on holding events where the various religious organizations on campus can come together and interact, including a possible fair in Kogan Plaza next year.

SA President-elect Nicole Capp said she is very excited for the new position Rubenstein will be holding in the SA and for the work SAME will be doing this year.

“It really hasn’t been done before,” Capp said. “It’s not always about tolerance. You should be embracing other religions, not just tolerating them.”

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.