Emerson Hillel reflects on Judaism in honor of Yom Kippur


Bailey Allen

Bagels and lox at Hillel’s break fast.

By Chloe Els, Staff Writer

Members of Emerson’s Jewish community spent Yom Kippur thinking about the past. For some, reflections were personal and focused on lost friendships and new relationships. Others’ centered around the Emerson community and things they want to see change.

Yom Kippur, or the “Day of Atonement,” occurs 10 days after Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year—and is honored by a 24-hour fast and contemplation on self improvement in the year to come.

In the spirit of reflection, members of Emerson Hillel, an on-campus Jewish organization, looked back on some of the more nuanced parts of being Jewish at Emerson. Rivke Goodman, a senior creative writing major and president of Emerson Hillel, explained how they define Yom Kippur. 

“I feel like Rosh Hashanah is a deep breath in and a deep breath out, and Yom Kippur is what happens immediately after that breath,” they said.  

Goodman explained that Yom Kippur is an opportunity to separate yourself from the year before and move forward in a more positive way.

“There is an emphasis on personal reflection and solitude, but traditionally in this time of year you are encouraged to reach out to people you might have harmed, whether intentionally or unintentionally,” Goodman said. “And [asking for forgiveness].’”

One of Goodman’s favorite ways to reflect on the past year is through Tashlich, which takes place in between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Tashlich symbolizes letting go of bad parts of the past year by tossing away breadcrumbs. 

“You take old bread or something that can decompose easily and throw it into a moving body of water,” Goodman said. “It represents physically throwing your sins away.”

Emerson Hillel hosted a Tashlich event on the Charles River on Sept. 27. Jordana Meltzer, a senior performing arts major and secretary of Emerson Hillel, attended the event and noted how Emerson students have made it their own.

“Traditionally, you’re supposed to use bread for it, but bread is actually really bad for the ducks, so we used white broad beans instead,” Meltzer said. 

She explained that Hillel members first threw beans into the river individually, and then as a group, allowing them to consider not only how to improve themselves but their community, highlighting the need to face the changes they want to see in order to grow.

This Yom Kippur, Goodman has been reflecting on their hope that students at Emerson will get to witness more of the positive side of Judaism.

During their freshman year, Goodman attended a vigil for a terror attack on a Boston synagogue. Goodman remembers student journalists trying to interview them for a class assignment while mourning. 

“The professor wanted to teach [students] how to cover tragedies, but they were shoving their phones in our faces,” Goodman said. 

Goodman said this event made them aware of how acts of antisemitism are given much more attention than anything good happening in the Jewish community. In this next year, they hope to shine light on positive things happening in the Jewish community.

“There’s so much cool stuff happening all the time,” Goodman said. “I want it to be more of a celebration of life, rather than only covering things that are upsetting.”

A sophomore visual and media arts major spoke to The Beacon anonymously as they wanted to be able to speak freely about their frustrations with observing Yom Kippur at Emerson.

“I’m from the Upper West Side of Manhattan—a predominantly Jewish community—so I’m not used to having to worry about missing class for Yom Kippur,” they said.

They explained that, while they have accommodations to miss class on Yom Kippur, it’s tough for them to feel comfortable doing so because they know they will fall behind.

“If you want to celebrate the holiday, you have to make sacrifices you shouldn’t have to make,” they said. “It’s tough and a weird reminder that you’re not home anymore.”

Abbie Langmead, a junior creative writing major, shared her favorite part of Judaism and how she has been thinking of it this Yom Kippur—a mindset she finds helpful in creating positive change.

This mindset is called Tikkun Olam, and it is the Jewish philosophy of healing the world.

Langmead said she tries to follow this philosophy by participating in charity and activism. To her, this is less about faith and is rather just a way of life.

“I want to make the world the best place I can,” she said.

At the end of Yom Kippur, members of Emerson Hillel gathered in the Student Performance Center Blackbox Theater to break their fast and enjoy a feast of bagels and lox. Many said fasting allows them to feel like they are beginning the new year with a clean slate.

“I’m excited,” Langmead said. “I think it’s going to be a year of transformation.”