Name: Gabe Kaptchuk
Year: Class of 2015
Majors: Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, Math
Hometown: Cambridge, MA
Jewish Life at Hopkins
Before you continue reading, I should let you know that this blog entry will not reveal any of the secrets from our campus chapter of the Illuminati or the Elders of Zion.
The particulars of Jewish life on the Johns Hopkins campus changes from year to year – some years the orthodox contingent swells while in other years the group of cultural Jews becomes more prominent.
I will attempt to relay the common threads from each year the have bound my Jewish experience at Hopkins together. Nominally, Hopkins’ Jewish student population hovers around 15%, although the ways in which that population engages with their Judaism varies- something which never incurs judgment among any sector of the community.
I was born into a Conservative Jewish household that grew to be Modern Orthodox as I aged. I attended pluralistic Jewish schools, a phenomenon I now understand to be strongest in the Boston area, from kindergarten all through high school. My family was part of the rare class of Jews who showed-up to Shul on time each Saturday. In high school, I increasingly identified with the Modern Orthodox movement; I became the leader of the prayer group in which men and women sat separately and was unique among my friends in that I continued to wear a Kippah throughout the day. While looking at colleges, Jewish life was an important part of my search, but I never allowed it to overshadow my academic interests.
The relatively small size of the Hopkins Jewish community does not impede a rich, easily individualized experience. The community is centered around our beautiful 4-story Hillel building which plays host to events most nights of the week. Friday night dinners, proceeded with multiple options for prayer, with the classic allure of matzo ball soup and hemish meals draw crowds of up to 150 members of the community. The menu, prepared by a local kosher eatery, varies from the crowd pleasing chicken dishes to delectable meatballs. Culinarily talented members of the community recently started preparing the vegetarian options each friday afternoon, giving the vegetarians in the room, of which I am one, direct control over their own menu. Saturday lunch features cholent of both the vegetarian and meatlovers varieties made by current students, the recipes passed down dor le’dor. As with any Jewish Community, food serves as backbone around which our community has grown and strengthened.
If political activism, particularly around the issues facing Jews across the world and in the land of Israel, is important to you, Hopkins offers a plethora of advocacy opportunities. No matter where you identify on the political spectrum, Hopkins has a organization for you: Hopkins American Partnership for Israel (HAPI), JStreet, Coalition of Hopkins Advocacy for Israel (CHAI), JHUTAMID (an Israeli business partnership organization), Cafe Evrit (where students practice their hebrew language skills with native speakers) – we really have everything you could want. Together they run dozens of events on our campus throughout the year including the Annual Israel Fair, Challah for Humanity, and multiple lecture series. Additionally, for the past couple years there has been enough interest to have a Birthright trip comprised entirely of Hopkins Students.
Perhaps the most wonderful part of the Hopkins Jewish community is that I can know the names of virtually every member while never feeling forced into being everyone’s best friend. Hopkins Jews are not isolated in their own community; they participate in virtually every student group on our campus. Being a member of the Jewish community as a freshman lets you learn about all aspects of Hopkins life, from Greek life to academics to off-campus housing options to community service. Hillel can serve as a home-away-from-home, a solid foundation from which you can explore the rest of college life.