As freshman Alan Kotlyar was moving into Galloway Residence, he overheard a conversation that resonated with him.
“I opened the door to see a dark-haired, bearded, tall, cheerful guy whose parents mentioned something about Israel as they were talking to each other,” Kotlyar said in an email.
It was freshman Alex Pack with his parents. Like Kotlyar, Pack is Jewish, and he knew another Jewish freshman in Galloway. Shortly, they had found three others to reactivate Hillsdale Chavarah, the Jewish Club, because they wanted to continue their traditions throughout the school year and provide a place for Jews to inform non-Jews about their faith.
“I could not believe I had found two freshmen Jews already, and I knew we had to start something,” Kotlyar said. “We wasted no time. Our first Shabbat was the first Friday of the school year.”
Along with freshmen Sara Garfinkle and Nathaniel Turtel and junior David Schwartzman, the club’s leadership holds Shabbat services Fridays at 7 p.m. Service includes scripture reading and songs in Hebrew, accompanied by a violin and ukulele.
Garfinkle said for them, it was about community. She said they want to practice their faith alongside each other.
At its first service, 18 students attended. Those involved come from various backgrounds. Kotlyar and Schwartzmann are first generation Americans, whose parents immigrated from the Soviet Union. Garfinkle has taught Hebrew school in California and is an advocate for American-Israeli relations. Pack is part of the Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington, D.C.
But the club is hoping to reach non-Jewish students, as well, Kotlyar said. Last month, it held a viewing of the movie “Fiddler on the Roof” because it presented Jewish culture well, Kotlyar said.
Eventually, the students said they hope to hold a Passover Seder in the Searle Center with their peers. But for now, they said they are happy to be a part of the community.
“It was a group effort,” Pack said. “We found each other.”