New year, new traditions: Emerson Hillel hosts Rosh Hashanah dinner


Photo: Chloe Els

Emerson students gathered together in the SPC Theater to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.

By Chloe Els, Staff Writer

On Sunday, around 40 Emerson community members gathered in the Student Performance Center Theater to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. 

Rosh Hashanah is the first of the High Holy days on the Jewish calendar. It marks the start of a new year—a period of hopefulness for what is to come, and of reflection on what has been. Observers of the holiday often mark the occasion by eating kosher foods, attending synagogue services, and spending time with loved ones.

In light of the holiday taking place during the academic year—though the holiday falls on different days every year—many in attendance of the first night celebrations sought out community as they celebrated sans family. Emerson’s Hillel, an on-campus Jewish organization, set out to provide a space of celebration and connection through its hosting of the festivities. 

Jordana Meltzer, a senior performing arts major and secretary of Emerson Hillel, helped organize Sunday night’s dinner. As students entered the SPC Theater, Meltzer said she was happy to see so many people come together. 

While she understands the holiday can feel very different without “the comfort of being with family,” Meltzer views Rosh Hashanah as “a time of joy.”

As the dinner commenced, students beamed at each other across round tables and over paper cups of grape juice, drowning out the background music with cheerful conversation. 

Though the tables radiated joy, some students had trouble overlooking the lack of family. For Rebecca Sherman, a junior interdisciplinary major, memories of family celebrations flooded her mind despite it being another year celebrating in their absence. 

“At home, I would be having a big dinner with family from out of town,” she said. “It’s weird not having that, but it’s also nice how Emerson makes such an effort to establish a Jewish community here.”

The Hillel dinner brought more than just Emersonians to the table as students from other Boston colleges found themselves taking up seats. 

Lilith, a first-year pre-law student who did not disclose her last name, chose to attend Emerson’s event because Suffolk has a “small Jewish chapter.” While it’s hard to be away from her family, Lilith views the Jewish community at Emerson to be a “home away from home” and is glad the school is so accepting of Jewish students.

Around 6:30 p.m., the conversation died down as Hillel chaplain Rachel Sturges, secretary Bailey Allen, and secretary Meltzer stood on stage to lead the Shehechiyanu blessing. In English, it translates to “Blessed are You, Adonai, our G-d, Ruler of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.” On a screen behind them, the words to the blessings were projected in both Hebrew and English.

A volunteer from the audience helped light fake candles and recited the blessing in Hebrew over them. Another volunteer led the Kiddush—the blessing for grapes and wine.

The challah blessing, called the Hamotzi, was recited over a traditional round loaf, which represents continuity and progress. 

The final blessing was for apples and honey, traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashanah to symbolize hope for a sweet new year.

After the blessings, students started to eat noodle and potato kugel, matzo ball soup, pomegranate-glazed chicken, and honey cake. Every table had a bowl of apples, and soon apple slices were passed around along with honey and challah. 

Between bites of food, students chatted about forgetting to pack synagogue-appropriate clothes for college and how the food at this dinner differed from the food they would have gotten at home.

“Faith traditions can offer a really helpful rhythm to the year,” said Julie Avis Rogers, the director of spiritual and religious life and campus chaplain. “They can make the transition to college smoother by offering something already familiar and meaningful. They’re a constant that can reground you.” 

Done with the blessings, Sturges sat down at a table to relax and have dinner. After graduating from the University of Vermont, Sturges was placed at Emerson by the Hillel organization. 

It has been nearly 10 years since Sturges celebrated Rosh Hashanah at home with her family, but she is still aware of how strange it can feel to celebrate without them. 

“People are doing their best to be inclusive, but it’s not going to feel like home,” she said.

Sturges views the Jewish community at Emerson as a “smattering of everything” because of its diversity. Already she has been approached by people not involved in the Jewish community who are interested in joining. 

While college offers a chance to explore new religions, students also find themselves changing the way they practice their faith. 

Many Jewish students at Emerson go to synagogue less than they would at home, she said.

“There aren’t a lot of synagogues in Boston Proper so it’s not super accessible,” Sturges said. “I don’t know if we have the means to hold a weekly service here, but maybe we’ll try this year.”

Emerson Hillel will host Yom Kippur services on Oct. 5th from 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the Bill Bordy Theater, followed by a break fast from 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. in the SPC Theater. All are welcome to attend.