University students celebrate the Jewish new year at Hillel

About 80 students and community members arrived at the Hillel house Friday for the Jewish student center’s annual Rosh Hashana service and dinner.

Several students who attended this Jewish new year celebration were spending their first holiday away from home.

“I don’t go to temple too often, but it was nice not to have the pressure of my parents watching me all the time,” first-year student Lenny Schwartz said. “I can just act natural.”

“Many students come to the Rosh Hashana service as the first expression of their Judaism as autonomous adults,” Hillel executive director Amy Olson said.

Hillel works to create an inclusive environment with these services, Olson said.

“We try to make the service a mix of traditional and more liberal so there’s something for everyone,” she said.

Olson and Rabbi Sharon Stiefel led the service with the help of student volunteers who read passages and led prayers.

Olson gave a sermon reminding students of the importance of performing acts of tzedakah and gemilut chasadim – charity.

She encouraged people to participate in the University’s Month of Kindness in November. Empty paper bags were placed on the chairs, to be filled with nonperishable foods and returned to the Hillel house at the Yom Kippur service Oct. 5.

Rosh Hashana is also celebrated by eating special foods. Apples dipped in honey represent the wish for a sweet new year. Round challah – typically a braided bread – symbolizes the circle of life.

On Sunday, students went to the Washington Avenue Bridge to drop bread crumbs into the Mississippi River, a ritual that represents casting off the sins of the previous year.