Fostering Community

By Robert Nathenson

As a full-time graduate student at Johns Hopkins I know how the rigors and stresses of being at such a prestigious research-focused environment leaves time for little else.  But as President of the Jewish Graduate Student Association at Hopkins, I also understand the value and necessity of maintaining a balance, of fostering a social & religious as well as an academic life.  This is not always easy here.  We have a plethora of bright young Jewish graduate students, but too often we are pigeonholed into our respective departments, rarely to emerge but for the occasional coffee or run to chipotle.

My and my executive board’s job is to create a Jewish graduate student presence on the Hopkins campuses.  In the third year of our existence, we’ve worked hard at doing just this.  We’ve fostered community through Shabbat dinners as well as Happy Hours throughout the city.  But our greatest challenge is larger than this.  We seek to foster communities, not just within graduate students at Hopkins but across our population and those of other Jewish organizations in Baltimore.  To be a Jewish graduate student at Hopkins implies membership in the broader young professional community in Greater Baltimore.

So we’ve sought to go further than a typical graduate student organization, concerned with the standard leisure activities of graduate students – food and alcohol.  In our speaker series, we’ve drawn in crowds from the wider community, for example when Hopkins’ own History Professor, Ken Moss, spoke on Tradition and Subversion in Modern Jewish Culture.  We paired with Chai Life to run a speed-dating event for young Jewish professionals in the Belevedere Hotel.  We’ve run over 100 events at The Field House in Canton with Bayitt, Biya, Impact and other Jewish organizations and have joint programs planned for this Spring as well.  We’ve also donated time and care, preparing and serving food at the Ronald McDonald House through Jewish Volunteer Connection.

The multi-organizational events are what is most exciting to me as a young Jewish adult.  I’ve been living in Baltimore for the past four years and it’s only been in the last year I’ve begun to have this feeling.  There seems to be a concerted effort, more so than I have ever seen before, to bring organizations together, fostering a sense of community for your own members as part of a broader whole.  The J-More calendar, and THE ASSOCIATED more broadly, is a large part of this.  So is Council 2434.  The establishment of Moishe House, Friends of the Israeli Defense Fund, Brews and Schmooze at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, all contribute to this broader sense of community.

If you were to ask our members about a typical day, the words “lab,” “research,” and “grading” would most likely be at the tip of their tongues.  I like to think that the Jewish Graduate Student Association has their back.  We offer food, alcohol, philanthropy, and speakers to stimulate their minds outside of their disciplines.  It’s about creating a community that represents life outside of school, a balance to the ardors of the life we have all chosen.  This is the mission and task we took up three years ago and continue today.

Lately I’ve been feeling that we have help for this goal.  Just as the JGSA supports the social and religious lives of its graduate student members, so do the greater Baltimore organizations I’ve seen spring up lately support us.  Each time we’ve wanted to create an event out of the ordinary, such as speed dating, or co-sponsor a large get-together, member organizations have greeted us with open arms.  It is this friendly atmosphere, both for individuals as well as for organizations, which makes me the most excited I have ever felt to be a young Jew in Baltimore today.

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Filed under Jewish Learning, Young Adults

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