Even at a university known for going the extra mile to support Jewish life on campus, the pragmatic concerns of serving several thousand students may sometimes conflict with the needs of a minority, like observant Jewish students. Such was the case this year, when the University of Maryland, College Park’s graduation occurred over Shabbat and Shavuot. Not wanting students to be precluded from marking this important milestone in their lives, however, the University of Maryland (UMD), Maryland Hillel, and UMD Chabad collaborated to host an “alternate graduation.”
The ceremony took place in the Gildenhorn Recital Hall at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on May 17. Fifty-five graduates and 250 family members gathered for the moving ceremony.
The evening opened with a beautiful rendition of "Hatikvah" and "The Star Spangled Banner" by two graduating seniors, Avi Eisenstein and Daniela Nagar. Alyza Lewin, a prominent attorney, delivered the keynote address. Lewin is renowned for litigating a Supreme Court case concerning the inclusion of “Jerusalem and Israel” on passports of U.S. nationals born in Jerusalem. She has also pursued several cases pertaining to religious freedoms. Lewin charged the students to stand up for injustice and use their voices.
Moshe Klein of Silver Spring, Maryland, spoke on behalf of the graduating class. He spoke of the importance of transcending boundaries of identity and allowing oneself to be challenged intellectually. Klein paid tribute to the University of Maryland, a public institution that enabled him to satiate his universalistic pursuit of knowledge while Maryland Hillel and Chabad simultaneously nurtured his particularistic identity as an observant student. Alyssa Gabay, a graduating senior from Merion Station, Pennsylvania, read a poem.
Rabbi Ari Israel, executive director of Maryland Hillel, and Rabbi Eli Backman of UMD Chabad also addressed the crowd. William Cohen, UMD’s associate provost and dean for undergraduate studies, presented the students with their diplomas. After the ceremony, nearly 200 people gathered at the Ben and Esther Rosenbloom Center for Jewish Life for a festive dinner.
The ceremony was an example of a way in which students can access the best of a public institution while preserving and practicing their individual religious identities. The Jewish community in College Park is testament to the efforts of the university administration and organizations like Hillel and Chabad, which partner to make such experiences possible.
By Elan Burman