The Jewish Community at Washington University
(Please note that this article was last updated in 2007, so while the general themes hold true, the details need to be reviewed as they may have changed.)


By Ariela Krevat ('05) with official literature and student editors.

Background

Washington University in St. Louis is not just another school with a funny name – it is a growing, thriving, exciting community of students from around the globe who have all come to be educated and to develop as adults. It also boasts a flourishing Jewish community. It is estimated that about 1800-2200 students, representing about a third of the undergraduate population, are Jewish. It is estimated that another 800-1500 graduate students are Jewish as well. Historically, Wash. U. has had a strong Jewish community, even as other private research institutions maintained quotas on Jewish student enrollment (link to PDF).

St. Louis is only a two hour flight from the east coast, which means, in effect, that Washington University is not as far from New York City as Boston is—although the transportation is indeed more costly.

Jewish Academic Opportunities

The Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Studies program is an interdisciplinary curriculum whose purpose is to explore the history, literature, religion, culture, politics, and creativity of Jewish, Islamic, and Near Eastern civilizations. Many of the classes offered are among the most well regarded in the school: Exile: Judaism, History, and Literature; Jews in Islamic Lands; Approaches to the Quran; Rabbinic Texts; etc.

There is also a Hebrew language program offered, which is part of the Asian and Near Eastern Languages department. The Hebrew courses at Washington University comprise an integrated program of courses in Modern Hebrew, Biblical Hebrew, and Rabbinic Hebrew. The courses are designed to teach all aspects of the language: speaking, listening, reading and writing.

A course is also offered in the school of social work on Jewish communal service, taught by Barry Rosenberg of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis.

Graduate Students

For graduate students, there is also a joint MA/MSW program in Jewish Communal Service and Social Work. For this degree, the George Warren Brown School of Social Work joins with Hebrew Union College's Irwin Daniels School of Jewish Communal Service to offer a dual degree program that enables students to obtain both an MSW and an MA in Jewish communal service in two years. This program trains social workers who are primarily interested in delivering social welfare services to the Jewish community. Students spend 14 months at Hebrew Union College and an additional year at the Brown School of Social Work.

St. Louis Jewish graduate students can connect through JGrads. JGrads is a group dedicated to serving Jewish graduate and professional students as well as recent graduates who reside in the St. Louis area. It aims to build community through social, educational, cultural, career-development, community service and religious programs, both at individual schools and campuses and city-wide. JGrads is affiliated with Chabad.

Library

The Washington University library contains a Judaica collection of approximately 40,000 volumes in all areas of Jewish Studies, with special emphasis on Jewish philosophy and intellectual history, Jewish history, and Jewish journals of the 19th century in all languages. Hundreds of new print titles are added to the collection yearly, primarily in English, but also in Hebrew and other languages. The library also maintains subscriptions to Israeli periodicals.

Study Abroad

Washington University boasts dozens of study abroad options, including at the University College of London, Trinity College in Dublin, CET in Prague, and the American University in both Cairo and Beirut. The best part of the Study Abroad program is that it has almost limitless options. If you are interested in a program not listed, you can submit a proposal to the Study Abroad office, and, if approved, receive credit for the program at Wash. U.

Students majoring in Jewish, Islamic and Near Eastern Studies are encouraged to participate in Washington University’s Study Abroad program. For both the Jewish and Islamic tracks, the university currently sponsors a pre-approved program of study at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. For a full list of Wash. U study abroad opportunities to Israel, please visit www.israelstudyabroad.com.

In 2006, the chancellor of Washington University, Dr. Mark S. Wrighton, visited Israel with a delegation of university officials in an effort to partner with Israeli academic institutions. The visit was under the rubric of the McDonnell International Scholars Academy,which boasts partnerships with academic institutions around the globe.

Campus Ministries

Washington University is not affiliated with any religious organization and does not provide specific sectarian services. Indeed, Washington University's charter proscribes "instruction either sectarian in religion or party in politics." Thus, unlike many private universities in America which have a strong religious culture or history, Wash. U. does not. That said, the university has dozens of groups that are religious in nature which cater to the broad diversity of faiths that comprise the student body, and, as recognized student groups, are given equal opportunity to non-religious groups. In addition, the recognized professional religious leaders serving the University, including priests, ministers, rabbis, and pastors, are members of the "Washington University Interfaith Campus Ministries Association." This provides a forum for the various groups to come together and discuss issues of mutual relevance and concern. In the Jewish community, both Chabad and the St. Louis Hillel are members of this forum.

Jewish Opportunities Outside the Classroom

One of the best ways to get involved in the Jewish community is through the Jewish Student Union (JSU), a multi-thousand dollar umbrella organization for more than 20 groups at Washington University which plan or participate in programming that caters to Jewish students. These groups include Staam – the Jewish A Cappella group, Washington University Students for Israel, and many more. JSU encourages involvement and feedback from the Jewish community on campus, so if you don’t like the way something is done, want to form another group, or just want to see how things are run, you can attend open meetings and let your voice be heard.

The Chabad Student Association is one of the more active Jewish groups on campus and features a broad range of unique activities which attract a range of Jewish students from secular to observant. Examples of past activities include a pair of Hasidic Reggae concerts, a kosher booth at Thurtene Carnival, and more. Rabbi Hershey Novack is the Chabad campus rabbi.

The St. Louis Hillel seeks to maximize opportunities for Jewish students to explore, celebrate and sanctify life in a Jewish way. Hillel offers Shabbat and holiday services and meals, spiritual, educational, social justice, and cultural programs, individual counseling, and lots of opportunities to simply “hang out” with other Jewish students.

Chabad and Hillel also sponsor many other programs and events that spark interest in students, including baking lessons, Yiddish classes, Tanya classes, dinners, speakers, etc. In addition, dozens of other events are put on by students in their rooms and on their floors.

Israel Activity on Campus

For those who wish to get involved in political solidarity with Israel or are simply interested in starting “Falafel Fridays,” there are more than a few options.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has a presence on campus. They frequently do voting registration, political programming, and public relations campaigns on campus. Recently, AIPAC selected Washington University for their newest campus initiative.

Another option is WSI – WashU Students for Israel. Different committees make up WSI, and focus on different aspects of Israel solidarity: political advocacy, cultural programming, educational programming, environmental concerns, etc.

Each year, many students also travel to Israel on free 10-day Mayanot Birthright Israel trips.

Keeping Kosher on Campus

There are a number of options for keeping kosher at Wash. U. There is a “Kosher Meal Plan” which allows you to dine at the main cafeteria on the South 40 residential area (Center Court) with the rest of the students, and choose to eat fresh, hot kosher dinners. All the prepared kosher meals sold on the campus are certified as kosher by the Vaad Hoier of St. Louis.

There are also pre-packed kosher breakfast and lunch items sold at the main eateries on the main campus. Offerings include pastries, baked goods, fruit-bowls, wraps, salads, pizza, and sandwiches, all made fresh daily at the kosher kitchen. Don’t be surprised if students who don’t keep kosher buy kosher pre-packed meals – the food is excellent (and the brownies are downright addictive). This replaces the “Kosher Cart” which used to be located in Mallinckrodt center, and is a big improvement as kosher food is now available at more locations on campus and for longer hours during the day.

Yet another option for upperclassmen to keep kosher is to live in university housing (either the Millbrook apartments or off-campus apartments). In these cases, there are kitchens in the suites, and students can usually kosherize these kitchens at their convenience.

Shabbat and Holidays

There are several options for keeping Shabbat at any level of observance. The St. Louis Hillel (located directly across from the Art School and an 8-10 minute walk from the South 40 residential area) offers a variety of services weekly, as well as special holiday services. There are also several synagogues around campus within walking distance. Many Wash. U. students attend Shabbat morning services at Bais Abraham, or “Bais Abe,” as it is affectionately called (see below).

Shabbat dinner is held weekly at Chabad and Hillel, as well as at community families who welcome hungry students into their homes. Shabbat lunches rotate between Bais Abe, Chabad, Hillel, and students' apartments, though generally it is up to the student to make plans.

Individual teachers may choose to cancel classes for Jewish holidays (and other religious holidays). This means it’s possible that there will be a class scheduled on a day of observance. Professors can be accommodating in this regard, though it is worthwhile to speak with them before missing any class. Tougher challenges revolve around chemistry labs and similar classes that require participation on a specific day as a part of the grade. It is always a good idea to check the Jewish calendar before signing up for classes so you know what you are getting into.

It is especially nice to be around on campus on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (when pretty much everyone goes to some service), Sukkot, Chanukah, and Purim. But many times it’s just a nice Shabbat dinner that serves as a “soul rejuvenation” (so to speak!).

St. Louis Jewish Community

St. Louis boasts a warm, active Jewish community of 60,000 people. Many students find employment at hebrew schools and Talmud Torahs. Many area congregations - including Bais Abraham, the nearest synagogue to campus - offer free or discounted memberships to students, and many St. Louis Jewish events are open to students at discounted prices. The Jewish Federation of St. Louis maintains an active Young Professional Division, and many graduate students participate in its events. The St. Louis Jewish Light is the newspaper of the Jewish community and is an excellent place to find out about Jewish life off-campus.

Bais Abraham

Bais Abraham Congregation, or "Bais Abe", is located in the University City Loop area adjacent to Washington University. Bais Abe is an eclectic Orthodox congregation with weekly Shabbat services, weekday morning minyans, family Shabbatons, lunch and learn sessions, student hospitality programs and a junior congregation. Individuals and families of all backgrounds and levels of observance are welcome. Their rabbi, Hyim Shafner, is the past rabbi of St. Louis Hillel and is available for students as needed.

Minyan

Every morning, a student-led minyan meets for the Shacharit service. In the past, the minyan has met in a variety of locations including a fraternity house and one of the sophomore residence halls. This year, the minyan meets in the basement of the Lee Residence Hall, one of the “freshman dorms” on the South 40.