Sunday, July 21, 2024

Hillel aims to spread awareness

A Marrano is a Jewish person who had converted to the Christian faith to escape persecution but continued to practice Judaism in secret. The origin of the word Marrano is unknown, according to

Professor of religion and chair and director of the Concordia Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies at Concordia University in Montreal Ira Robinson came to Plattsburgh State March 9 to discuss the different ways the term Marrano has been interpreted by Jewish scholars.

The event was filled with members of the Plattsburgh community. Sitting together was the Hillel club.

PSUC sophomore theater broadcast journalism double major and president of Hillel Arin Cotel-Altman said Hillel is the Jewish student union that focuses on promoting Jewish life on campus.

“We really want students to feel at home on campus and not just Jewish students. We actually had a non-Jewish president a few years back and really anyone is welcome to the club,” said Cotel-Altman.

Cotel-Altman said she wanted students to know they always have somewhere to celebrate the holidays and a family to go to. She said most students live far from home, so they don’t usually get to go home to celebrate Jewish holidays. She said they’re lucky to have a good relationship with the Temple Beth Israel.

The club has done several occasions to celebrate Jewish culture. They have done two Shabatt dinners, which is a dinner that involves lighting candles and reciting a blessing with three traditional meals prepared: one in the morning, one in the evening and one in the late evening. The evening meal typically begins with a blessing called kiddush and another blessing recited over two loaves of challah bread. Cotel-Altman said she wants to do three dinners a semester during the fall.

She said they will also have Passover Seder, which is when the club brings seder plates from home and go to temple for two nights. The Passover Seder is a Jewish feast that marks the beginning of the Passover. The seder plates are used to eat symbolic foods during passover.

“In the fall, the club does a mitzvah event. Mitzvah is basically a good deed, so Mitzvah week is a week of doing good deeds,” she said.

She said during their first semester of mitzvah, they wrote letters to Israeli soldiers to thank them for their service. Then next day the club went to the animal shelter and volunteered their time there. She said these were just some of the deeds they completed during the week.

Cotel-Altman said their club and the Center of Student Involvement are currently collaborating with Julie Goodman, a lesbian Jewish comedian who will come to PSUC to be a guest speaker.

“I always say it’s good to learn about other people’s cultures,” Cotel-Altman said. “And I feel like a lot of people still don’t know about Judaism and through the media, they get a lot of negative ideas about it and that’s just not true.”

Currently, the club has 11 to 15 members. Cotel-Altman said she’s thankful because when she first joined the club, there weren’t nearly as many students in the club. She said she’s glad the club had expanded on campus and hopes to advertise more through events and public relations.

Most recently, Hillel attended an event coordinated by one of their advisers, PSUC Head of Jewish Studies Jonathan Slater, where Robinson discussed the different ways the term Marrano has been interpreted by Jewish scholars.

Robinson made it clear that he didn’t personally want to define the term. He started learning about the subject because he was interested in history, memory and Jewish identity. He said his lecture was about the marranos as he felt nothing melded those three elements together more than the history behind the term.

“I’m more interested in the ways in which scholars have viewed the term because the different ways in which scholars view the term tells us something how Judaism is understood and interpreted now in the contemporary period,” Robinson said.

Global Chain Supply Management and Vice President of Hillel Paige Sangiorgio attended the event.

She said the event taught her what different people think of the word marrano, and Dr. Robinson was a well-spoken speaker.

Sangiorgio. said she learned about this new term, which she had never heard before. And by going tonight, she got to learn what others thought of the term as well. She said PSUC does have a Jewish presence and it’s important to learn more about the culture.

“People should learn about other cultures, and people should have the correct understanding of some of terms that might be used today.”

Besides Sangiorgio’s thoughts on the event, Slater got the opportunity to talk to attendees after the event.

“It’s a subject that you don’t hear too much about so people were fascinated with what he had to say.”

Slater said one takeaway from the event was the fact that students should know PSUC has an active Jewish studies program on campus,and at the core of that program is the Jewish studies minor.

“I hope it was something that was interesting and curious to learn more,” Slater said. ”I always think curiosity is a great takeaway from a lecture you go to or any class that makes you want to read more and learn more.”

He said as part of the Jewish studies program, they try to bring interesting and exciting speakers to campus.

“It’s home. It’s my home on campus and that place we can go to and not be judged for being Jewish,” Cotel-Altman said. “Or what perceptions people have. We can talk about things that affect our Jewish identity I can’t explain it any better. It’s indescribable.”

Email Kavita Singh at

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