Mount Allison’s Jewish Students Union returns after a five-year hiatus
During the second weekend of September, the Chabad Luabvitch of the Maritimes in Halifax was met by a group of six students from outside of the city, eager to interact with fellow members of the Jewish community and celebrate the Jewish New Year. This group was none other than Mount Allison’s newly-revived Jewish Student’s Union (JSU). Although the group is small in number, their love and dedication to their community is limitless.
The JSU, which was revived by fourth-year religious studies student Hannah Block Wickham and third-year Fine Arts student Laika Dadoun, aims to create a community for the Jewish students of Mount Allison to connect with one another, participate in their communal practices and celebrate Jewish holidays. These include the most important holidays within Judaism, the High Holidays, which are currently happening. The JSU spent their first weekend as a group in Halifax celebrating the High Holiday Rosh Hashanah, where they interacted with the chabad, shared meals with the chabad’s rabbi and participated in the chabad’s Rosh Hashanah services.
Dadoun, who serves as the Vice President of the JSU, emphasizes one of the most important aspects of the JSU, and Judaism as a whole: an inclusive community.
“Everyone in the Jewish Students Union has different goals for what they want to get out of it.” said Dadoun. “I think, really, what we’re trying to do is create a safe and inclusive space for Jewish students to feel as though they have a community on campus and that basically, with such a small number of Jewish students here, that they aren’t alone.”
Hannah Wickham, the president of the JSU, felt similarly to Dadoun. “Having the Jewish Student Union for me means being a little less alone and being a little bit more relaxed,” she said. “It’s good to be able to say something and to have people just… get it.”
The sense of community, although important, has been affected by the global pandemic. Mount Allison students who found themselves stuck in Sackville because of the COVID-19 crisis have not been able to celebrate the High Holidays, having to adapt to constantly changing public health guidelines.
This adaption has come in different forms, depending on one’s way of practicing Judaism. For some, it means celebrating High Holidays over Zoom, while for others, it has an extra layer of difficulty. Members of the community who are shomer Shabbat do not use technology during Shabbat, which begins at dusk on Fridays and ends on Saturdays after sunset. While there are ways around this that are acceptable during Shabbat, it still poses a challenge during the pandemic. Nevertheless, the passion of those who practice Judaism has shined through during the pandemic.
First-year fine arts student and member of the JSU Bex Steinberg, who is originally from Boston, MA, has made these adaptations during their first year of university in a new country. Though it’s been a difficult first year, they’re thrilled to be celebrating their community with their new friends.
“So far, it’s been a nice little slice of home amid all the unfamiliarity that comes with moving to a new place.” Steinberg remarked. “It also means knowing I’m not alone in my heritage and my faith.”
Because of the small size of the Jewish community at Mount Allison, another goal of the group is to provide representation and advocacy for Jewish Mounties. The JSU provides support and advocacy for those who need it; for example, if a Jewish student needs help talking to their professor about celebrating a High Holiday on a day in which there are classes, the members of the JSU are there to assist them with whatever they need.
While her experience as a student who practices Judaism has been incredibly positive, Wickham noted that there’s always room to learn.
“Most people, of course, are very well meaning and eager to understand. If you’re a non-Jew […] don’t be afraid to ask questions!” she said. “It’s better to ask questions than to make assumptions.”
The JSU is open for any and all students who practice Judaism, no matter what year you’re in, what you’re studying, or how you practice Judaism. One fact about the JSU will never be disputed: They are a tight-knit, loving community that is ready to educate those who are not Jewish, and to welcome Jewish Mount Allison students into their family with open arms. Wickham describes it, with a hearty laugh, as a group that’s “Jew-ing it together.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the JSU, you can find them on Instagram, under the handle @mtajsu.