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Student D'var Torah

D'var Torah by: Abigail Bucy
As given at First Year Shabbat, August 25, 2017

Shabbat Shalom everybody. I’m Abigail Bucy, I am a sophomore Communications major with a Jewish studies minor, and I am an Engagement and Outreach coordinator in Hillel at Kent State’s Student Board. Please allow me to personally welcome you to our First-Year Shabbat.

I, for one, am very excited to be back at Kent State and to start another year at school. I absolutely fell in love with Kent, and I hope that every first year will get to have as many wonderful experiences as I did. I’m actually trying to recreate those experiences, because I am in the same dorm as last year. Like, same bedspread, same binders, notebooks and pens, same futon I stole from the lounge, same decorations. I am basically living in the same exact room as last year.

And the similarities don’t end there. not even close. I could go on for hours about how much this year is similar to last year. and yet, even with everything being so familiar, I am terrified. like freaking out, panicking all the time, scared as f- I probably shouldn’t curse here should I? Scared as Frick. and I couldn’t tell you why.

But I think that’s a pretty human thing? to be scared, but you can’t necessarily articulate why. you just are. especially here. in this kind of environment, where you are kind of walking into the unknown. sure, you have a schedule, you have a map, you have google! even me, with so much that I already know, there is still loads more that I have no idea about. I don’t know what to expect.

And of course it absolutely perfect, almost too perfect but we aren’t going to dwell on it, that the Torah portion we are reading this week is dealing with that exact thing. Of having a plan that deals with any and every possible possibility and yet still being scared.

So like let me set the scene for ya, give ya a little “previously in the Torah:” So the Israelites have been saved from Egypt, they’ve wandered the desert for about 40 years, and they are now standing at the edge of the promised land, their new home, and they are laying out the rules of the land. How is the government going to be set up, what are the laws, who is going to enforce those laws, what happens when someone breaks those laws? They are setting up their plan. They know what to expect of their new home.

One teeny little problem though, they got to go to war first.

You can find some similarities between the situation we have here, today at Kent, and what was happening to them. Now I hope none of you have to go through violent war, but it is very easy to fall into a “you against them” mentality when you are going through college. You want your degree, so you can get a job, so you can get a house, so you can get married and have kids, so you can be happy. Right? That’s what is promised to us? But who knows? Who knows what is to come?

So, we are given these words; “Let not your courage falter. Do not be in fear, or in panic, or in dread… for it is the Lord who marches with you… to bring you to victory”

Regardless of whether or not you are religious, or believe in a higher power, it is comforting to know someone is on your side.

So this is my advice for first years, find a person, a group, an activity, that supports you when you need it. Who or what will help you fight your battles, whatever that battle may be. Anything from beating the clock to get your homework in, or standing up for yourself and what you believe in. find someone who sees how truly strong you really are. the key to success is believing in yourself, but sometimes, you can’t do that. So find someone or something that helps you remember how to do that.

Good luck on the year ahead, Shabbat Shalom everybody.

D'var Torah by: Anna Okun
As given at Welcome Back Shabbat, September 1, 2017

Shabbat Shalom!

Hi everyone! My name is Anna Okun. I see a few new faces and I can’t wait to get to meet you guys! I am a sophomore majoring in speech pathology and audiology. The parsha for this week is Ki Teitzei (Tetse). Fun fact, this is the first Dvar Torah that I’ve ever done! Going into this task, I knew that the Torah teaches us how to have a relationship with G-D. But, I didn’t realize that it also incorporated issues between people and how they should treat one other. We pray to G-D and we ask Him to help us, but oftentimes we forget that we are capable of helping each other, too. 

A major lesson I took away is that we absolutely must provide aid to each other. The stranger, an interpretation for immigrants, the orphan, and the widow were often mentioned in this part of the Torah as people who needed extra assistance because they were so alone. In light of recent events, many of us have been keeping up with the devastating effects that Hurricane Harvey has had. It has forced families to grab essentials and move to a completely new place, making them strangers in their own homes. It has left children without parents, and it has separated spouses for extended periods. Most of the time, we are so caught up in our lives that we forget that there are shattering events happening all around the world. Although we cannot stop this specific natural disaster from running its course, we can reach out with a helping hand. A small act of kindness can mean the world to someone. 

Not only does the Torah say it is important to help those around us, but it is our duty to provide relief and to respect those who have wronged us. Looking back at our history, it is no secret that Jewish people were slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years. Yet still, the Torah states that we shall not despise an Egyptian, for we were sojourners in that land. We were enslaved under the Egyptians, but we still mustn’t despise them. No matter how much someone has wronged you, mistreated you, or disagrees with you, we owe each and every person a basic form of respect. 

Recently, a famous rapper performed at the MTV Music Awards and gave a beautiful speech urging people to fight for the equality of all minorities. In an interview following his performance, he said, “if you don’t agree with my message or if you don’t like it, that’s fine. But, you also don’t have to bash my message… If you’re right, then be right! But, there is never a reason to hurt others.” There are so many issues we face today as a society, and the majority of the conflict comes from disagreements. So, if we all simply understood that we are all entitled to our own opinions, it is okay to disagree with the opinion as long as you respect the person who is giving it. 

So, here is your takeaway for today: Always give a helping hand. That could be something like community service, or a small, kind gesture to put a smile on a stranger’s face. Also, treat others, friends or foes, the way you would like to be treated. It is very easy to let life spin out of control which is why nights like tonight are important. It’s crucial to get together on Shabbat with friends and family to reconvene, to say thank you for our blessings and pray for those who need them.

Shabbat Shalom!

D'var Torah by: Lilly Romond
As given at Israel Shabbat, September 8, 2017

Shabbat Shalom, everyone! My name is Lilly Romond and I’m a Sophomore Global Communications Major as well as Israel on Campus Coordinator for Hillel’s student board. I’m also the secretary for SSI.

This week’s parsha, Ki Tavo, starts out with the Hebrews waiting to enter the land of Israel after wandering in the desert for 40 years. Moses tell them that when they cultivate their first ripened fruit, or bikkurim, they must bring it to the holy temple in the name of G-d. Even after wandering in the desert for so long, this was the Hebrews’ first set of instructions because when you are starting from scratch it’s important to do everything in the image of G-d.

This year, I went to Israel for the first time in my life. I’ve been waiting 19 years to go to my homeland (not as bad as 40) but it really changed me as a person. Seeing and praying at the kotel, the Western Wall, was probably what had the biggest impact. I got to wear my grandpa’s tallis which was a big deal for me. When I saw the temple wall in front of me I couldn't hold back my tears. The beauty and history of our perseverant religion was standing right infront of me in the land of Israel. When I did my extension I ended up studying at a Yeshiva, a school for Jewish studies, for 3 weeks. I found that putting G-d in my life was not only therapeutic but it helped me grow as a person. Whether it was doing mitzvot (commandments), praying more, dressing modestly or just finding my personal connection to Hashem. I had the opportunity during my extension to lead 4 Bat Mitzvahs for a Birthright group at the Kotel. None of the girls knew Hebrew, so I felt obligated to explain to the role of importance and holiness of women in the Jewish religion along with teaching them the Shema prayer. I was helping other Jews realize the significance of this country and the role that religion plays in our everyday life. I wanted them to find their connection just like me. I was so blessed to be in the land of Israel that G-d gave to us and I felt as a Jew it was my responsibility to act in his image and to be grateful for this. Maybe this is why I say blessings before I eat and drink, or maybe this is why I am so passionately Zionist. Overall it is because I am thankful that G-d has given all of us the religion of Judaism and most importantly, the land of Israel. 

D'var Torah by: Lana Frankel

As given at Homecoming Shabbat, October 13, 2017

Shabbat Shalom.


I’m Lana Frankle, a 2nd year neuroscience Ph.D. student at Kent, and I’ve been coming to Hillel ever since I arrived in Ohio last academic year.  I’m honored to lead this week’s Torah portion, and I feel it has a lot of material to be discussed.


The first Torah portion, Bereishit, or Genesis, in English, covers a lot of ground: creation of the earth and all its creatures, including creation of Adam and Eve, their time in and fall from the Garden of Eden, and the murder of Abel by Cain.  Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden for eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, leading them to cover their bodies with leaves because they became aware of their nakedness.  Adam and his descendants were then cursed to till the earth, and Eve and hers to suffer the pains of childbirth.  Why didn’t God want them to have this level of self-awareness?  Is self-awareness always a good thing, or can it be detrimental?  


Pop culture today is very focused on self-exploration and self-discovery: the number of viral personality quizzes circulating on the internet is proof.  Have you ever wondered whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert?  What How I Met Your Mother character you are?  What about what type of artisanal bread you are?  But obviously  it doesn’t stop at these more frivolous exercises.  Many english classes from grade school through college will assign essays of self-description and self-analysis.  People like to tell other people about themselves in conversation, so they like to know themselves.  But are we really learning about ourselves?  And if we’re not, is there a good reason?


According to one study, 93% of U.S. drivers rated their driving ability as better-than-average.  85% of students surveyed after taking the SAT rated their ability to get along with others as being above the median.  90% of professors at the University of Nebraska Lincoln rated their teaching ability as superior to their peers.  Amusingly, 85% of people believe they are more immune to biases (such as overestimating themselves) than the average person.


How do these distorted beliefs arise?  Psychologists have found that our minds have several ways of playing tricks on us, and some of these tricks change the way we think about ourselves.  While there are quite a few of these “cognitive biases” I will illustrate the basic concept by describing two particular ones.  The self-serving bias describes people’s tendency to attribute their successes to their abilities and effort, while ascribing their failures to outside factors.  And the choice-supportive bias leads people to remember better reasons for past decisions than they actually had at the time.  These are just a few of the many cognitive biases that ultimately result in overly favorable self-perceptions.


You might be wondering: is anyone immune to these biases?  Different people express them to different degrees, with some people expressing a given bias only a little or not at all.  In general it’s hard to predict who these more realistic people are, but there is one good predictor: people with clinical depression tend to suffer from fewer cognitive biases (as measured by psychological tests) and therefore have more accurate worldviews.


So what can we learn from all this?  Does the fact that accuracy often correlates with unhappiness mean we are better off ignorant of ourselves, like Eve and Adam before they ate the apple?  Will brutally honest self-knowledge bring us the shame that led them to cover themselves and the pain that was given them as punishment?  Or are we better off knowing the truth, even if it hurts?


My personal opinion involves a compromise of these two approaches: if you’re curious about yourself or your flaws, be honest with yourself, and encourage your friends to be honest with you.  But don’t get hung up on an aspect you dislike: just accept it and move on.  The more you agonize over whether you’re awkward or not, or whether you’re too short or your laugh is too loud or whatever it is you’re insecure about, the more it’s going to be on your mind.  If someone insults you and you evaluate the feedback by itself, it’s easier to come to terms with and become indifferent to it than if you’re constantly questioning yourself and trying to convince yourself you don’t have that perceived flaw.       


Shabbat Shalom

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