Participating in Good Deeds Day is a highlight of the academic year for Jewish students. Pictured here are Julia Levy, 20, Marlboro, N.J.; Danielle Contorer, 20, and Sammi Elkus, 20, both from Huntington Woods, Mich. (MSU hillel)

Uncertain future leaves students planning for the fall one step at a time.

By Julia Levy

On March 11, I was about six weeks into a semester abroad in Budapest, Hungary.

Restaurants and pubs began to close, and my new friends and I decided to treat this night like it was our last. We wanted to try and enjoy every second we had left, which we foolishly thought would actually last many more weeks. A few hours later, we found out that this night would, in fact, be our last night abroad and we would immediately begin the journey home to the United States.

At first, I was hit with shock and sadness, like any 20-year-old would be. Once I finally made it home, I took time to reflect on how lucky I was to be able to go in the first place.

A week after I came home, all my friends from Michigan State University started to leave campus and head home as well, due to the university’s decision to move classes online.

Previously, I had mostly thought that the COVID-19 pandemic had only affected Europe, but seeing my friends leave East Lansing put everything into perspective. Now my friends’ lives and community at school were forced to be shut down as well?

I started to think about MSU Hillel, an organization and community that has given me so much since my first days at MSU. Through my involvement, I was elected to the Jewish Student Union’s Executive Board as the vice president of community programming. As a student leader, I understand the hard work that goes into planning events and programs for the Jewish community on campus, and I was distressed for my peers who put in so much effort to make the Spring 2020 semester exciting and innovative. I knew if I had been in their shoes, I would have been devastated.

Students learned about Israel through cooking at a make-your-own shakshuka event. Pictured here are Hannah Margolis, 20, Scotch Plains, N.J.; Spencer Price, 21, Sterling Heights, Mich.; Julia Levy, 20, Marlboro, N.J.; and Marnie Hackman, 20, Bethesda, Md.

Through my involvement and passion for Jewish life on campus, I made the decision to run to be the president of the Jewish Student Union for the 2020-2021 academic year. Shortly after everyone settled into their quarantine, elections were held, and I was selected as president of the organization that meant so much to me. I worked extremely hard to get here and cannot wait to see what next year brings for Hillel and for myself as a leader.

Through early meetings with the new Jewish Student Union Executive Board, we’ve discussed the upcoming year, but it is difficult and exhausting to think about the future. As a student leader, I find myself wondering what will happen if classes are online in the fall. What if we are not able to have gatherings of more than 50 people? How will we have Shabbat or plan big events that students look forward to every year?

I think about these questions daily because serving my community might look different than I had previously imagined. But all we can do is take everything one step at a time.

I am continuously trying to come up with ways to help my community, whether that’s trying to come up with online programs and events or working on a game plan for all scenarios in the fall. Knowing I have a great support system around me and people who are willing to help, like the rest of our executive board and MSU Hillel staff, makes this process so much easier and less stressful. I am hoping for the best outcome for the fall, but whatever happens, I know we will get through this together.

Julia Levy is president of Michigan State University’s Jewish Student Union.

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