My name is Jessica Knapp, and I’m a freshman planning on studying bioengineering with a minor in statistics and data science. I have been going to MIT Hillel for Shabbat dinner almost every week. I’ve also been involved in the Kindle Your Judaism group, where we read books with Jewish themes and topics.
After a while, I realized that I know many Jews, but I just don’t see them at Shabbat. Some (like me) feel a little alienated by the lack of Reform Shabbat services. Others feel that it’s just too far away.
So, I’ve been organizing dorm-centered holiday gatherings, including a Chanukah party with homemade latkes, and next week I’ll be bringing Purim to East Campus with my friend Maya. I also just started to lead Reform Shabbat services once a month, and I hope that they will eventually be more frequent. We’ll see how the semester goes!
One of the reasons I wanted to lead Reform services is to build up a Reform community. The sense of community at MIT is one of my favorite things about this school. Whether you find it in the camaraderie formed struggling together on psets, or when a new friend (read: recent stranger) tells you excitedly about a program he did that you’d be so perfect for, the MIT community is uniquely welcoming, and everyone can find their niche. My niche has been in Club Gymnastics, Musical Theatre Guild, East Campus, LTI, and Hillel. It will also be expanding for iGEM, a synthetic biology competition that I am super excited to be involved with!
Speaking of super exciting involvements, I had the opportunity to go on Birthright with MIT Hillel this winter, which was an incredible opportunity. I could go on for hours about visiting all the historic sites, from the Golan heights to the Dead Sea, or the cultural value in visiting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, or just the plain fun of riding camels and attempting to haggle in the shuk. But I don’t have hours to write this, and you don’t have hours to read it, so I’ve picked a story that was really the highlight of my Taglit experience:
One (actually two) of my highlights was Shabbat. We were lucky enough to celebrate Shabbat twice on our trip. Now, I absolutely love a musical Shabbat. I was a song leader in NFTY (the National Reform Movement Youth Group), a unit song leader at Camp Harlam, and assistant director of the kids choir at my home synagogue. If you couldn’t tell, music is my favorite way to connect to Judaism. So, I was very excited when Dan, one of our leaders, pulled out a guitar to lead services on our second day in Israel. I could tell, though, that most people weren’t really into it: there’s a difference between hearing your own voice because it’s yours, and hearing your voice because no one else is singing. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the chance to sing songs I know and love, while also learning new songs.
By the second Shabbat, I got to help Dan plan the music for the service, and I was expecting the same thing (ie, Dan and I singing most of it alone). But this time, people were singing along, and trying to figure out the songs they didn’t know. Even if they couldn’t sing the songs, they were actively listening and jamming along. Aside from the joy of seeing other people enjoy something I love, it really showed me how close our group had grown. Between the two Shabbats, we went from nearly strangers, to family.
Jessica Knapp '22