Religion in OU promotes conviviality, spiritual freedom

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After a visit to the Hillel House at Ohio University, Alex Deutchman, a junior criminology student, hugs Sarah Livingston, the executive director of Hillel to OR, says goodbye and says: “I love you, mom!”

While the two are unrelated and Deutchman is just one of over 100 students Livingston supervises, no one will ever know.

Hillel at OU is part of the larger Hillel International, which is an organization that aims to provide a lifelong commitment to Jewish faith, culture, community and teachings, said Livingston. Hillel at OU has supported these ideals since it opened in 1939.

Livingston said the OU Hillel Foundation holds frequent events, including a weekly Shabbat service and dinner every Friday at 6 p.m., inviting all Jewish students on campus to participate and have a safe space to practice their faith. and acquire a sense of community.

The closest synagogue to Athens is over an hour away, in Columbus, Livingston said. The lack of places of worship available for Jewish students is what makes Hillel at OU so crucial, she added.

Livingston estimated that there were between 400 and 500 Jewish students on campus, or less than 2.5% of the population. Due to the small size of the Jewish community on campus, Livingston stressed the importance of creating a sense of comfort within the Hillel House.

“Hillel is inherently just a safe space for Jewish students to be Jewish,” Livingston said. “We just want to make sure they can do whatever fills their hearts.”

Sue Erlewine, Deputy Director of Athens KTC, a Tibetan Buddhist organization focused on spirituality and meditation, said the organization runs routine meditation sessions as well as basic Buddhist philosophy classes.

Erlewine started the KTC Athens 17 years ago in his living room. She invited all citizens of Athens, including OU students, to practice Buddhism in groups, providing an opportunity that was not available in or around Athens before Erlewine established the organization. .

The Buddhist meditation practiced by the Erlewine organization provides a way for students to control and manage their anxiety, whether it is schoolwork or anything that could be considered a source of stress. she declared.

The meditation and the overall practice of Buddhism has made Erlewine a calmer and more relaxed person, and she said that the students involved as well as other members of the Athens KTC feel the same.

Likewise, Julia Kelley, a first year master’s student in vocal performance and music therapy, said she uses her faith in God to reassure herself that she can overcome the stressors in her life. She said that practicing Catholicism and her faith in God acted as another support system for her.

Although she attends Sunday Mass at Christ the King University Parish, Kelley practices mostly in private and is not affiliated with any religious groups on campus.

Kelley said practicing religion in college can be difficult at times as she has to hold herself accountable so as not to fall behind in worship.

“I was the one to make sure I went to church every week and kept practicing my faith,” Kelley said.

Kelley believes that going to church every week brought consistency while also giving her the freedom to practice her beliefs individually.

Erlewine said his organization and Buddhism in general are not very demanding by nature. Anyone can come to a session and take away whatever they want, and their experience will not be defined for them.

“(Our goal is to) make Dharma, which is the teaching of the Buddha, available,” Erlewine said. “People can come in and take what they want (and) leave what they don’t want.”

Some of the activities Hillel runs are specifically for worship, but Livingston said much of what the foundation does is cultural or not related to Judaism at all, such as their charity blanket-making event. . She said these events are specifically meant to form friendships and bonds between members of the organization.

Deutchman said she met her closest friends through the Hillel Foundation, and those connections are what she cherishes most of her time with Hillel.

“There are people in this building that I know I can go to… and they will always be there for me,” Deutchman said. “The Hillel was just that thing that brought us together, but it’s not the thing that makes our friendship or breaks our friendship.”

Livingston stressed the need for Jewish students to have a place on campus where they do not have to fear persecution or trial for their religious beliefs.

“Judaism is more than a religion; Judaism is a culture, ”said Livingston. ” It’s a lifestyle. This is your story. These are the traditions of your family. It is so much more than just praying to God.

The close and permanent bonds that form between people who share a faith and a culture are a testament to the impact that religion can have on OU students. Although many choose to practice their faith in private or through other spiritual methods, religion is used on campus in a way that benefits students as well as the connections they create.

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