Jewish Life Celebrates 50 Years at Georgetown

Members of the Jewish student association, 1975

Building on the endeavors of the earlier Jewish student group, B’nai Shalom (founded 1963), in 1975, sophomores David Lippy and Jay Kosminsky founded the Jewish Student Association in order to advocate for more robust Jewish resources on the Hilltop. Source: Georgetown University Archives.

On March 22, Jewish Life (formerly “The Jewish Chaplaincy”) is celebrating its 50th anniversary at Georgetown University during a commemorative Shabbat service. Staff writer, Dustin Hartuv caught up with Rabbi Rachel Gartner, director for Jewish Life to ask her about the history and accomplishments of Jewish Life on the Hilltop. See below for event details.

Q: Would you give us a brief overview of the history of Jewish Life at Georgetown?

A:  This Shabbat, we’re marking 50 years since 1968 when Rabbi Harold White came to campus. There’s been a Jewish presence on this campus since the 1870s, but in the late 1960s, the university dramatically increased its commitment to fostering a robust Jewish program and community here. At that time, Georgetown hired Rabbi Harold White (of blessed memory) as a way of responding to Vatican II’s document Nostra Aetate, (literally “In Our Time,”) with its call to multi-faith engagement.  Georgetown had hired rabbis before, who were part-time, and they are an amazing part of our history. But with the arrival of Rabbi White, an organized Jewish community at Georgetown began to cement itself.

Q: What has been one of Jewish Life’s major accomplishments since its beginning?

A: Well, thanks to our staff team (which we’ve been able to triple since I arrived), and our truly incredible student leaders – we’ve got lots to boast about! Today, our robust program currently includes our GUish and Senior Fellows internships, Bayit Living and Learning Community, Jewish Student Association, Sisterhood women’s group, Shabbat and holiday programming, Shabbaton retreats, “Journeys: The Search for Home” Alternative Break Program on forced migration (which explores both historical Jewish migration and current non-Jewish immigrant and refugee experiences), our multi-faith groups and programs, our cycle of credit-bearing and non-credit-bearing courses, our partnership with Hillel International’s Taglit Israel trips, and the many Jewish and Israel-focused student groups with which we are affiliated.

Q: What do you think makes Jewish Life stand out most?

A: Today, Georgetown boasts a vibrant, pluralist Jewish student community several hundred strong. Our Jewish Life program (formerly known as the Jewish Chaplaincy) engages hundreds of undergraduates in Jewish living and learning every single day of the academic year. On the broadest level, our Jewish Life program provides Jewish presence, voice, counsel, and expertise for the entire Georgetown community. More specifically, our mission is to enrich and empower self-identified Jewish students along their personal journeys and to help them discern their unique roles in delivering a brighter future for the Jewish people and for the world.

Jewish Life at Georgetown has won awards from Hillel International in two categories: in the breadth of our reach and the depth of our programming. We are among the top universities in the country in these areas, and we now reach a higher percentage of Jewish students at Georgetown than the vast majority of schools in the country. Not only do we reach them once, but multiple times. We have been recognized for the way in which we engage our students in an ongoing fashion and transformative ways. I think this is due, in large part to our being situated within a Jesuit university. Primarily for two reasons: On the one hand, in pursuit of its core values of multifaith engagement, Georgetown offers many opportunities and resources for gaining exposure among students – so our expert staff can seek out students in university-supported ways. And at the same time, since the Jewish community is a minority community on campus, Jewish students very actively seek out Jewish Life programs and Jewish communities that make campus feel more like home.

Q: What is one message you have for Jewish students at Georgetown?

A: You can be Jewish in any way that you actually are and actually feel and actually identify as, and you are welcome here. Some of our students are very religious here, and a lot of them are secular and feel themselves as culturally connected. Some grew up in homes of only one tradition, Judaism, and some grew up with many traditions. That’s what has been most meaningful to students here. We are very attentive and aware of the many types of different Jewish students Georgetown has on campus, and we welcome everyone to participate with Jewish Life.

Jewish Life 50th Anniversary Celebration events

Jewish Life 50th Anniversary Shabbat: The evening will include services, guest speakers, including President John DeGioia, and a kosher dinner.

History of GUish Life: Bethesda Bagels and Walking Tour: Meet in 111 Healy Hall (Jewish Life office) at 12:30 pm for Bagels & Coffee. At 1:00 pm, Ari Goldstein (C’18) will lead a walking tour focusing on pivotal moments and events in the history of Jewish Life on the Hilltop.