Hey there! My name is Ryan. I’m Jewish and I want to say a few things. Things about what it’s like being a Jew at SFA.
I should start by saying I love SFA. My mom is an Alumna, and it’s close to home. My professors and classmates are all amazing people who I genuinely cherish. I would not change my decision to come to SFA for anything, but there is a significant lack of resources for and representation of Jewish students that I want to address.
Before this semester, if you went to the Jewish tab on the Office of Multicultural Affairs website, the page was completely blank. Jewish student organizations had existed in the past but none have for several years. That meant that there was nothing unifying Jewish students or representing Jewish interest on campus, and I found that alarming and unacceptable.
At the beginning of the semester, if I wanted to connect to my Jewishness, I would do so on my own. I would drive alone to the Reform Synagogue in Tyler to attend services. Similarly, issues I had with my school and religious schedules fell on me alone to resolve. Last week I had a test scheduled on Yom Kippur, a day of fasting to conclude the High Holiday season, after I had returned from Kol Nidre services in Tyler very late the night prior.
Now, yes, there are solutions to these problems that are not the responsibility of the University. SFA cannot control if there is a synagogue closer to Nacogdoches than Tyler, and students can request accommodations to be made for religious holidays. But, wouldn’t it be nice if a Jewish organization existed on campus to make resources more accessible for students? Or, for the organization to request that the institution be mindful of the burden that schedules that don’t consider our holidays places on our lives, both religious and academic?
I’d love to be a member of a Jewish organization that would make connecting to the Reform synagogue in Tyler or creating meaningful Jewish experiences on campus more accessible. I’d love to be a member of a Jewish organization that could serve as a place for Jews on campus to find a unified voice, so we can be heard on issues like exam scheduling and holiday experiences on campus. Frankly, I don’t think I should have to ask for my exam to be delayed. I don’t want to have tests scheduled on my religious holidays in the first place, the same way that an exam wouldn’t be scheduled on Christmas or Easter. Student’s get off an entire week for the secular holiday of Thanksgiving without having to ask. The least I’d expect is to not have to ask for my exam to be rescheduled on a single day during the holiest time of our year.
I think it’s needless to say that I am proud of my Jewishness; I usually walk around donning a Star of David around my neck. Being Jewish is a cornerstone of my culture, religion and identity next to other things. In my general experience, I have been met with good favor or completely ignored, which is fine. However, I have also been approached by people on campus who sought to challenge my religious views and who, willfully or not, disrespected my culture and religious life, even going so far as to explicitly call it second best to theirs. That is the tip of the ice-berg of what I’m afraid might exist at SFA, just like it does everywhere else: antisemitism. That is another reason why I want a Jewish voice on campus.
My Jewish values call for the celebration of religious diversity and multiculturalism, a sentiment that I’m afraid has not always been and will not always be extended to us in return. That is how I have ended up in conversations on campus where I left feeling like I was obligated to be respectful of another person’s religious beliefs regardless of their disregard for my own. I want Jews on campus to have a place for them to have a voice that can foster positive changes on campus that makes it a more inclusive and diverse campus for people of all religious backgrounds and cultures. That is why I and a group of other Jewish students created the Jewish Student Union.
The JSU is a Student Organization that we organized, so that we can create an enriching experience for students who may be disconnected from or curious about Jewish life and culture. We want the organization to be a place where Jewish students at SFA can find resources to connect to their Jewish life safely, with community and with a unified voice. Whether that means tagging along to services in Tyler, having monthly Shabbat Dinners or just having a place to meet and gather with other Jewish students and faculty. We want the JSU to be an organization that attempts to fill the gaps that currently exist at SFA.
As President of the new JSU, I am glad and excited to be taking steps towards creating a Jewish community at SFA where one simply did not exist before. If you’re interested in joining us or have questions, contact us on our Instagram page (@SFA.JSU), or email me at my student email (firstname.lastname@example.org).