Jewish@edu – Learning Firsthand
Michigan Hillel chair grows from experiences on campus with anti-Semitism.
I was fortunate to grow up in what my friends and I endearingly call “the Jewish bubble” of West Bloomfield. Growing up in an area with a large Jewish population, I had the opportunity to come to love and be proud of my Jewish identity, and I chose to explore it from many angles.
In high school, I was on the board of Temple Israel’s Youth Group, volunteered at Friendship Circle, was in BBYO and was on the Jewish Fund Teen Philanthropy Board. Because of my involvement in the Jewish community and the shelter it provided, I was never exposed to anti-Semitism until I exited that bubble and entered a new bubble called college.
I am a senior at the University of Michigan, where I currently serve as chair of the Michigan Hillel Governing Board. Michigan is a university that welcomes and encourages diversity of opinion and productive discourse and, as a result, many perspectives exist on campus.
Recently, there have been several events on campus that some individuals claim are anti-Semitic, some claim are anti-Israel and some claim are both. These events and the existence of anti-Semitism is not limited to U-M nor college campuses but exists within society in general.
Holding the title and role of chair, I was often the first student to become aware of situations and often the student in the room with university administrators advocating on behalf of the Jewish community. In these experiences, Hillel and the Jewish community were the greatest support systems I could have asked for. The staff and student leadership work to ensure it is supporting every individual student in the way he or she needs support.
Being at Michigan and part of the Hillel community has provided me with learning opportunities and skills far superseding those learned in the classroom. I have gained a more nuanced understanding of the diversity of opinions within the Jewish community; gained skills and language to better articulate my opinions and to advocate on behalf of the Jewish community with empathy; and, overall, have a greater sense of confidence in and continued love for my Jewish identity.
These lessons and this understanding of self would not have been possible if not for the vibrant, diverse Jewish community at U-M. That is why it is so hard for me to hear members of the Jewish community say U-M is no longer a “good” school for Jewish students.
Yes, there are challenging moments, but, because of these moments, we have the opportunity to learn how to respond and advocate for the Jewish community with a supportive Hillel and Jewish community behind us.
Our Hillel and Jewish community on campus is as vibrant and lively as ever. This is something noticed by the highest levels of the university administration. In a recent meeting of some Hillel student leaders with President Mark Schlissel, Provost Martin Philbert and VP of Student Life Royster Harper, it was noted that we have one of the largest and strongest Jewish communities of many universities.
It was a very bittersweet experience for me this fall welcoming all the new freshman to campus. I was excited for them to have the opportunity to share in all the wonderful experiences of our Jewish community, but sad because it meant my time here is coming to an end. I am grateful for these experiences and will carry the lessons with me as I move forward in life and my career. Forever and always, Go Blue! @
Kendall Coden of West Bloomfield is a senior at the University of Michigan and chair of Michigan Hillel.