Jewish student life is ‘on an upward trajectory’
Rabbi Jessica Goldberg
Photo: Emily Paine
Rabbi Jessica Goldberg has been working to build community since arriving in August 2020.

Jewish life at Bucknell has evolved far beyond what Joe Blaustein ’47 experienced in the early 1940s, when the Sammies were the center of a young Jewish man’s world. Today there are 197 self-identified Jewish students on campus, served by the well-appointed Berelson Center for Jewish Life, which has two kitchens, one kosher, the other kosher style; an active, student-run Hillel; and most important, Rabbi Jessica Goldberg.

Goldberg arrived in August, not the opportune time for the Hebrew College graduate to start her rabbinical career. Social distancing has not muted her efforts, though. “Jewish life at Bucknell is on an upward trajectory,” she says. “I’ve been seeing a lot of enthusiasm about the future. Maybe part of that is because people have been cut off from their friends.”

Among the programs that bring Jewish students together is the Hillel International-sponsored Jewish Learning Fellowship, a 10-week program with a “group of about 10 students who come together for dinner once a week and discuss hot-button topics and life’s big questions,” she says.

The program began in spring 2020; since then, a total of four groups have taken part. “It’s really been very successful here and is definitely picking up steam, so I’m planning to do two more cohorts in the fall and probably another two in the spring,” says Goldberg. Once the pandemic is over, Goldberg also plans to restart Bucknell’s participation with Birthright Israel, a program that sends qualified students to Israel to learn about Jewish identity and culture.

Throughout the academic year, the 12-member Hillel Student Board designs a full roster of events, many of them involving opportunities to make and eat good food.

Goldberg has helped them build community during COVID time by increasing the outdoor seating in the Berelson Center’s backyard, holding some Friday Shabbat services and dinners as well as other events outside. These include the screening of an Israeli film with commentary by Professor Coralynn Davis, women’s & gender studies, and Or Rogovin, the Silbermann Family Associate Professor of Modern Hebrew Language & Literature.

“We offer all these programs and learning experiences, but most importantly, the Berelson Center provides a home away from home,” says Goldberg. “Bucknell is an intense place academically and socially. The Berelson Center offers a much more relaxed environment where you can come, eat some food with friends and feel like you’re in a safe place where you can just be yourself.”

— Sherri Kimmel