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The Blue & Gray Press | July 18, 2019

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Jewish Cultural Celebration shares its history with UMW students

James Farmer Multicultural Center

James Farmer Multicultural Center


The University of Mary Washington Jewish Student Association/Hillel and the James Farmer Multicultural Center are partnering up to share the stories of Jewish Cultural Celebration with the UMW community.

The 11-day event, which began last Monday, Nov. 3 and ends tomorrow, Nov. 14, started with a kick-off meeting and dinner in Seacobeck Hall’s Smart Market and a movie night in Combs Hall. The JSA/Hillel and the JFMC also organized a traditional Shabbat dinner for students on Friday, Nov. 7.

The two organizations planned events and invited speakers to share their stories and expose students to Jewish history’s development. Two notable speakers included Holocaust survivor Marcel Drimer and keynote speaker Vanessa Ochs.

On Monday, the Kristallnacht Commemoration took place in room 411 of Lee Hall, which featured Porter Blakemore, associate professor of the department of history and American studies, who led a discussion on the Holocaust.

Drimer, who also spoke at the commemoration, shared the story of how he and his family were forced into hiding during WWII. According to JSA/Hillel President Dahlia Somers, the students were able to ask him questions following the discussion and were able to speak with him at a gathering after the commemoration, where food was provided.

Drimer and his family ran from his Polish hometown to escape from German forces. At nine years old, a Ukrainian family agreed to hide Drimer, his family and nine other Jews in their stable. However, Drimer and his family were forced to take cover in a hole in the ground when they faced the threat of being found by Nazis. They were liberated from the hole by the Soviet army several months later, in August of 1944.

The lack of nutrition and the cramped physical environment left Drimer malnourished and unable to walk. He had to relearn how to walk after being rescued.

Somers said she was especially excited about Drimer’s attendance.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Somers said.

Through Blakemore and Drimer’s discussion on the Kristallnacht, Somers said she hoped that students will gain an understanding of the plight of the Jewish people that extends beyond textbooks.

“We hope that everyone who comes will leave having learned something,” Somers said.

Ochs, who spoke on Nov. 12 in room 411 of Lee Hall, is a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia. Her presentation, titled “The Jewish Feminist Story: The History We Brought into Being,” focused on Jewish feminism.

This is the seventh year that the university has hosted a Jewish cultural celebration.

According to Marion Sanford, director of the James Farmer Multicultural Center, the events were a great opportunity for students to not only learn about Jewish culture, but to give Jewish students a chance to become more active with their heritage on campus.

“One of the great things about this event is the sense of pride that UMW students who participate exhibit, celebrating their own heritage and bring[ing] that to the campus and to the UMW family,” Sanford said.

The JSA/Hillel is one such group that has been excited to share their heritage with the university. In addition to putting together the Jewish Cultural Celebration, JSA/Hillel have also organized kayaking and apple picking trips earlier in the semester.

Somers said that creating a sense of community is an integral part of her faith and her involvement in the group.

“I like being in a community. You have a connection with other people, and you are able to relate with them. I think that having a community draws a lot of people to religion. You have a heritage and culture you can share with one another,” Somers said.

The JSA/Hillel will be working to extend that community to the university in the next year. In the spring of 2015, the JSA/Hillel is planning to partner with the Islamic Student Association to jumpstart a discussion on campus about stereotypes and speak with students about the conflicts currently taking place in the Middle East.