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Brockport Jewish Passover Seder leads to conversations of religious representation on campus

Brockport Jewish Passover Seder leads to conversations of religious representation on campus

By Ellen Paddock / News Editor

Culture, family and laughter were the common themes of the Brockport Jewish community Passover Seder that was held virtually on Monday, March 29.  

This celebratory tradition remembers the liberation of Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt through storytelling, drinking wine and eating matzah. To kick it off, members of the Brockport community and students shared their favorite Seder memories.  

One student recalled Seders back home in Long Island, where she raced family members to find hidden matzah as part of a common tradition. Others reminisced abouprecious moments with friends, the chaos of family holidays often accompanied by spilled wine and endless laughterand the strong sense of community that is felt during the eight days of Passover.  

After the celebration, the tone shifted as the group got down to business and discussed opportunities for Jewish students on SUNY Brockport’s campus. 

Brockport used to have a Hillel, an on-campus Jewish organization, until the advisor lost funding. This made opportunities for Jewish students on campus nearly obsolete, and with no official organization on campus, fewer Jewish students have enrolled. 

Distinguished Service ProfessorLauren Lieberman, who organized the virtual seder, said that Jewish students find it hard to be themselves and to meet people they relate to on campus. They experience a loss of identity when they come to college.  

“It’s lonely and isolating,” Lieberman said. “I know students who have transferred or students who didn’t come because we don’t have a big enough Jewish community for them to feel comfortable.”  

Lieberman said an established group on campus would encourage more Jewish students to come to Brockport and would provide a place where they can be themselves. She wants students to feel like they have a family in the Jewish community like they are used to before coming to college. 

She applied to make the “Brockport Community and College Chavurah” an affinity group on campus and hopes the club will be approved by fall semester.  

“We want to declare ourselves as an affinity group so we are a documented group and can get a room on campus, get the alumni house, make an announcement in the Daily Eagle, and share things with students,” Lieberman said.  

She plans to meet with SUNY Brockport’s new CDO (Chief Diversity Officer) Damita Davis to outline some concerns and goals. Those on the call applaud all the hard work done for ethnic diversity on campus but recognize that there is little talk of religious inclusion. 

Former Co-Chair of the Interfaith GroupDarla Bair, said students of faiths other than Christianity don’t feel safe or have any place to feel at home in the Brockport community.  

“(SUNY Brockport) is very diverse, but we don’t see it because there aren’t places like Lauren (Lieberman) is trying to create,” Bair said. 

Bair and her colleagues were building momentum as an interfaith group on campus until things fell through after the firing of former CDO Cephas ArchiePh.D.last year. 

“We were meeting regularly as an interfaith portion of the diversity group on campus, and as soon as things fell apart in that department, nobody picked up the baton,” Bair said.  

Lieberman takes it upon herself to drive students to synagogue and to include them in community celebrations of Jewish holy days. She said that it is hard to be a minority group with no allies or outside support. She doesn’t believe the Jewish community is intentionally ignored, but there is little awareness of how alone and isolated some students feel.  

“We have to be extra loud, but the hard thing is, being a Jew, we always have to fight for ourselves,” Lieberman said. “I don’t want to be a hidden group anymore. I want people to be proud that we’re Jewish.”  

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