Staying hip isn’t always easy, especially when you are a 2,000-year-old religion on a college campus. To keep students interested, a few religious organizations – such as the Jewish Student Association – are attempting to preserve an old world practice, while adding a touch of new world flavor.
“One of our priorities is taking a religion that is 2,000 years old and bringing it to campus,” said junior Ben Balter, the Jewish Student Association president. He described the JSA as trying to connect “the past with the present.”
With Halloween just around the corner, Hillel Program Director Steve Shifrin said that Hillel will be recognizing the day of candy and costumes in an unorthodox way. On Oct. 25, Hillel will be hosting an event called, “Challahween,” a play on the word challah, which is a special type of bread eaten by Jews.
“This is not a traditional Halloween,” Shifrin said.
Challahween is a competition for freshman to see who can create the best bread. The challahs they create will be served at the following night’s Friday night Shabbat service and then a winner will be chosen.
In contrast to Hillel and the JSA, other religious organizations such as the Newman Catholic Student Center have opted to keep it simple.
“We like to think that people come to the Newman Center because of their faith and seeking truth,” said Andy Bergbauer, president of the center.
Bergbauer described the members as “very faithful people,” and said that he himself has become much more active in his faith because of the Newman Center.
On Friday Hillel hosted an event called “Wear out Hunger.” Designer jeans were sold at wholesale prices and a percentage of the proceeds were donated to Mazon Jewish Food Banks. Hillel and the JSA are also planning on hosting a senior event called, “Gin and Jew Hour,” at McFadden’s.
“It’s not so much about religion,” Shifrin said of GW Jewish programming. “It’s about providing meaningful Jewish experiences.”
The type of students that are active in the JSA and Hillel range from those who are observant to those who come purely for social reasons, Shifrin said.
“We’re trying to appeal to as many students on campus as possible,” he said.
Bergbauer said that many students at the center say their “faith has been strengthened in college.”
Students want the version of Catholicism that they grew up with, Bergbauer said.
“We don’t need to water down our religion to make it cool.”
The Newman Center does sponsor a series of coffeehouses, inspired by a Catholic Church program, “Theology on Tap.” The center brings in influential speakers who have gone through hard times,
Word Up! Bible Study is another campus religious organization that strives to hold a firm grip on its religious integrity while trying to make religion accessible to college students.
Word Up! Worship Director Kyle Boyer said that the Bible study group was founded in the late 1990s by Lindsey Cooper, a GW student at the time. Her pastor suggested she start a bible study group that was aimed at the “urban community.”
“We try to make the Bible applicable to everyday college life,” Boyer said.
Each week a teacher speaks to the group about the Bible and how it can be used in regard to “college survival skills.” Boyer said these speakers help students to relate with God.
“Our biggest priority on campus is to have a relationship with God,” Boyer said. “Student organizations are just part of the religious experience.”