Jewish community connection is sparse at UCCS

Isaac Werner

iwerner@uccs.edu  

As someone of Jewish faith, the space of time between the middle of September and October has always represented a period of growth, rebirth and forgiveness for me. Regardless of religion and spirituality, the autumn months show everything around me going through a phase of change, preparing for hibernation and then blossoming into something new and alive.  

     Contrary to popular belief, Chanukah is not the most significant holiday in the Jewish culture. It does not even come close. One can suppose that the correlation with Christmas, due to the timing, informed the mainstream American knowledge of the holiday, yet most have little knowledge of our other holidays. 

     Back to September and October. It is during the beginning of the fall months where Jewish communities all over the world come together to celebrate the High Holy Days — these include our new year celebration, Rosh Hashanah and our day of atonement, Yom Kippur.  

     In American culture, these holidays are held with very little regard by the non-Jewish public. They tend to occur around the beginning of the fall semester for many schools, and Jewish adults struggle with getting the appropriate time off from work to properly celebrate. As I have gotten older and lived in different areas of Colorado, I have begun to see this firsthand. 

     My journey started in an orthodox Jewish community a mile out from downtown Denver. As a child, this six-block radius was my entire world — I used to believe that everyone was Jewish.  

A Star of David symbol surrounded by Hebrew words.
The Star of David is a symbol of Jewish identity.
Stock photo courtesy of PixaBay.com

     My family did not have any initial problems with feeling safe enough to celebrate the holidays that were the most sacred and holy for us. We were constantly surrounded by other Jewish families and always felt like we had the support of our neighbors, our teachers and our coworkers because they were just like us.  

     Obviously, life changed. Things changed. I am no longer in downtown Denver, and my family is no longer surrounded by those same support systems — we survive and get by; we’ve figured out new ways to navigate our religious identity in a neighborhood that does not entirely reflect who we are. We live life to the fullest and with all the happiness in the world. 

     Now, I am beginning to move into the area of my life that is framed entirely in independence — moving out for the first time, living in a college dorm, beginning the process to get a degree. Above all the hurdles that life throws at me, all the new changes, one question remains constant in the back of my mind: Am I Jewish enough?  

     At UCCS, I know a total of three Jewish students other than myself. Typically, we only meet each other by chance, through mutual friends, so I cannot help but feel a little alienated from my religious peers. 

     I have had classmates and peers tell me they had never even met a Jewish person before, and there are no organizations or clubs on campus to offer support systems and community for Jewish students. While there must be more than four of us, I feel like the Jewish community on campus is incredibly small. 

     It should not be. 

     Colorado Springs has the second highest Jewish population in Colorado after Denver, according to Berman Jewish Databank. I wonder if this population just exists entirely off campus property, but I also understand that support systems do not just magically appear. 

     Since there is currently no Jewish organization or club available for UCCS students, the only way to change that is for us, as students, to make the first one.  

     The Jewish religion and culture are almost entirely dependent on a sense of community to thrive. Our teachings have a lot less to do with G-d than they have to do with loving your neighbor and making sure your community is safe and trusting. 

     UCCS may not have that for their Jewish population now, but all it takes is one step, one connection, one small club to foster that relationship within campus grounds. To extend an opportunity for community to the Jewish students at UCCS also extends an opportunity for community to the entire student body.