Baltimore Jewish Times
By Melissa Apter
February 8, 2015
Seeking connection among Conservative and traditional-egalitarian students on college campuses, a dedicated group of students banded together and are in the midst of planning their second annual conference.
When Koach, the Conservative movement’s college outreach program, was shuttered in 2013, a group of concerned students came together to form their own community. Masorti on Campus, which also welcomes students from backgrounds not affiliated with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, is the result.
“Masorti on Campus came about as a grassroots effort to show the establishment of the Conservative movement … that even without institutional support, we were still going to carry on,” said Eric Leiderman, one of the co-founders and current sociology major at Binghamton University.
“We’re trying to connect existing communities,” said Leiderman. “There’s a feeling of students being abandoned on campuses. We want them to feel connected.”
To demonstrate that these scattered communities are not alone, Leiderman has an interactive map on masorticampus.org that identifies campuses and their Jewish communities.
For previous generations of Conservative students, connection to the larger community was achieved at the annual Koach Kallah, an event which inspired Masorti on Campus.
“We knew from the get-go that we needed to have a large event, a coming-out party [to] let people know we’re here to work with as many students as possible,” said Leiderman.
“It is vital that college students have the opportunity to find a home in the Conservative Movement and opportunities for leadership development on their campuses so they continue to remain engaged and feel welcome. They are our future leaders in the Conservative Movement. We need their involvement, creativity and energy.”
From there, Leiderman reached out to two friends, one at the University of Hartford and the other at Columbia University in New York, to be co-chairs of the first Masorti on Campus Shabbaton, which was housed at the Jewish Theological Seminary last year. Approximately 55 students from 30 campuses attended the inaugural event.
JTS has been a consistent partner for Masorti on Campus, providing travel subsidies to last year’s event, managing donations and providing counsel on organizational matters.
Sara Horowitz, dean of student life at JTS and a Bowie native, wrote, “Part of JTS’s mission is to educate future Jewish professional and lay leaders to serve the Conservative Movement and larger Jewish community. It is natural for JTS to serve as a resource for Masorti on Campus and to help engage college student leaders who are seeking to create pluralistic Jewish communities on their home campuses.”
This year’s Shabbaton will be housed at the University of Maryland, College Park, Feb. 20-22. Organizers estimate they will have a turnout at least equal to that of the first Shabbaton.
Ben Kramer of Potomac is a co-chair for the upcoming Shabbaton and is eager to connect with other students and share best practices. The senior government and politics and history major was involved with the rebuilding of the Conservative/traditional-egalitarian minyan at UMD called Ometz. He hopes that their success will inspire other campus communities.
“People were sad to see Koach go, but people are very happy to see this element pop up, a ‘for students by students’ initiative that shows the movement that a gap [between high school and congregational life] is not acceptable,” Kramer added.
Kramer and his co-chairs have been working diligently to create an impressive line-up of speakers. Attendees will hear from Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International; Rabbi Joel Levy, Yeshiva director at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem; Daid Yarus, founder of mllnnl and JSwipe; Joey Weisenberg, creative director of Yeshivat Hadar’s Center for Communal Jewish Music and others.
In addition to the Shabbaton on Maryland’s campus, there are plans for a regional Shabbaton in Arizona, which Masorti on Campus student leaders hope will attract students from the Southwest and southern California, who due to financial constraints might not be able to participate in the main event.
Looking ahead, Leiderman wants the organization to further partnerships with Hillel International, the Camp Ramah network, MAROM Olami and other likeminded organizations, in an effort to become the go-to organization for campuses seeking to build Conservative/traditional-egalitarian communities.
Concluded Horowitz, “It is vital that college students have the opportunity to find a home in the Conservative Movement and opportunities for leadership development on their campuses so they continue to remain engaged and feel welcome. They are our future leaders in the Conservative Movement. We need their involvement, creativity and energy.”