Student perspectives

Shabbat Shalom from Simon Gross

image0 - 2023-02-28T122549.608.jpegHello, Shabbat shalom. My name is Simon Gross, I'm a freshman, and i'd like to start by thanking everyone for coming tonight for the AEPI shabbat. As the Build Chair for AEPI, I spent this past week designing and constructing a structure for the house. It was a fun challenge, but nowhere near the level of the task that was given to the Israelites 3,000 years ago - building the Tabernacle.

This legendary site described most memorably for me in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, was the physical space where the Israelites could come to connect with God. It was a place of holiness, a place to pray, to offer sacrifices, and to connect with one another. There are lots of stories about the tabernacle. Throughout its usage, it would be moved over 30 times while the jews wandered the desert, later serve as the hub for jewish life, and yes eventually get a very noble feature in an Indiana Jones film. But I think the construction of this great structure is one of the most astonishing. Not only did the jewish people have to follow the incredibly detailed instructions but they also had to find materials like the hides of sea cows, various precious stones, and almost 70 lbs of gold, in the middle of a desert.

The largest take away I had from this portion was the importance of attention to detail. Unlike the building at the AEPI house, God's instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle were incredibly precise, and every detail had to be followed exactly.

As we go into the week ahead, I want you all to think about how you can bring the spirit of the Tabernacle into our own lives. How can we create sacred spaces that inspire us to connect not only with God, but with one another? And importantly what are some areas of our life that we can need attention to detail. Whether it's school work, relationships, or a semi safe stage next to the AEPI DJ booth.

Thank you.



image0 - 2022-10-28T101555.253.jpegCarly:

Thank you all so much for being here tonight with us for Pink Shabbat in honor of breast cancer awareness month and Sharsheret. For anyone that may not know, Sharsheret is one of AEPhi’s national philanthropies that supports women battling breast or ovarian cancer.

Sharsheret is the Hebrew word for chain, and one of the nation’s leading Jewish cancer organizations. Not only does Sharsheret fundraise for research and support women going through treatment, but one of their main initiatives surrounds awareness. One of their mottos is “know the facts, learn the risks, take action.” They believe that we can truly make a difference and take charge in the fight against breast cancer by learning about your family’s health history. I encourage you all to take a look at the pamphlets dispersed throughout the tables to learn more about the amazing work that Sharsheret does and how you can become more involved.


Hi everyone! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Joie and I am a junior here in AEPhi. I am so glad I have the opportunity of speaking to you all about this incredible organization and what it means to me.

A week before the start of my freshman year at UT, my parents sat me down and told me that my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I unfortunately can say that it was not the first time one of my family members had been diagnosed with cancer. My sister and my grandmother are both cancer survivors. Fast forward one week, I came to Austin for my freshman year, feeling fearful and anxious about my mom’s diagnosis. Since this time, three of my closest friends have been told that their mothers too, have been diagnosed with breast cancer. It wasn’t until then that I truly understood how real the threat of breast cancer is for Jewish women. As terrifying as this journey was for me and my family, I can only imagine how difficult it would be for someone to go through this experience without the support we had surrounding us. I truly have no idea how I would have gotten through this without the support of the Jewish community here at UT.

This community provided me with a much needed support system and helped me find lightness in such a dark time. This is what fueled my motivation to get involved and give back to people who shared similar experiences to me. I became involved with Sharsheret as a member of their Young Adult Caring Corner which is a program that provides 18-24 year olds who have a family member battling breast or ovarian cancer someone to talk to who has been in their shoes. I am beyond grateful that my mom is now cancer free, and am dedicated to continue providing comfort in any way that I can to anyone who is experiencing the anxiety, fear, and pain that comes from a cancer diagnosis.

I’m not just here to pour my heart out to you and tell you all about my connection to breast cancer. I hope none of you can relate to my experiences, but the scary truth is that I know that’s unlikely. I want my message to also serve as a reminder that I, along with the rest of AEPhi, am always here for anyone that may be struggling. I hope this inspires you all to get involved with Sharsheret and the rest of Phi’s philanthropies as you may be surprised of just how fulfilling it can be.


It’s nights like tonight that reminds us all of the importance of sisterhood. I feel so lucky to be surrounded by a community of such strong Jewish women here at UT. A huge thank you to Rabbi Zev, Ariela, and the rest of your family for hosting us and continuing the tradition of AEPhi’s Pink Shabbat. I am so glad we’re able to come together for Sharsheret and breast cancer awareness month.

Shabbat Ki Tavo Host - Nina

Facetune_21-09-2022-12-03-55 (1).jpgHey everyone! My name is Nina and I’m the jewish content chair for JTribe. So before I start with the dvar torah, can you raise your hand if your parents gave you rules to follow before you moved away for college? Okay and what about just loose words of wisdom about how to behave, act, and carry yourself? Okay that’s what I thought- jewish parents, right? So this weeks parasha, ki tavo, can almost be compared to a parent giving their child rules before sending them off to live their own independent lives. So, at this point in the jewish people’s journey from Egypt to Israel, we’re reaching the end of the 40 years in the desert. And, for those of you a little more familiar with the story, you might be able to recall the fact that Moses himself isn’t allowed in the land of Israel with the people he has been bringing through the desert. So, while he’s been a source of guidance and wisdom for the last four decades, he’s expected to stay at the border and let the jewish people begin a new chapter of their lives on their own. However, he’s giving them rules to follow to ensure the success of the religion and their existence. Sounds familiar, right? While reading the text and interpretations for this week’s torah portion, I was brought to a moment in the Callaway stairway on move in day last year, where my mom was giving me her own set of rules to ensure my success as an independent person living on my own in a different state. While her rules tended to tilt to the “don’t overwork yourself, keep yourself healthy, and don’t make stupid mistakes” side of things, they were equally as valid and relevant to me as the “bring the first of your crops to the holy temple” rule was for the jewish people at that time. So, Moses eventually sends them into Israel, which we hear about in a few weeks from now. Although he was a proud and successful leader, he never got the chance to see the fruit of his actions. And while I’m not saying that we’re never going to see our parents again, they don’t get to see our everyday wins firsthand. I find this to be a really meaningful lesson about leadership. As future leaders, we may not always get to see our legacy, which is similar to the way our parents were able to guide us to UT, but can’t join us and continue holding our hands in the same way they did in grade school. It’s our turn, much like the people of Israel, to take our first steps as independent adults and pave our own path to the bright future that god has in store for all of us. Shabbat shalom!

Shabbat host Tyler Winter

unnamed - 2022-09-13T093044.957.jpgShabbat Shalom,

This weeks Torah portion details a majority of the laws that still affect us today. However, there are two very large ones I would like to focus on. The first one is that you should shoo a mother hen away before you take her eggs; you do so out of respect for the mother, and in return you are blessed with a long and healthy life. This is to say that if you treat your family and your elders well and you do not let bad to be shown upon them that you and your family will live long and prosperous lives. This reminds me of my grandfather whom I tried my best to take care of during his later years while always acting with chivalry. I learned from him that family comes first, and a successful life is one with a successful family.

The other rule is to completely obliterate Amalek from your midst. Amalek was an evil nation that lived a long time ago. When we entered Israel we were commanded to completely obliterate them from our midst and should for all time. Now they are extinct and it means that we should eliminate all evils from in front of us and in turn we will be prosperous and live good lives. I hope everyone can maintain a chivalrous life without evil. Shabbat shalom!

Shabbat Shoftim Host Ben Levkovich

whe.jpgIn this weeks parsha, Shoftim, we are told the rules of kingship and how we are to engage in wartime efforts. One of these rules is that when you are taking over land, you cannot cut down any fruit bearing trees, because “a person is like a tree in the field.”
What does this mean? What is this comparison between a person and a tree?

While there are many way that people are like trees, for example just as a tree has branches, so too do people reach out and affect others and just as tree produce fruit, we too create and give things to others. However, when I think about this metaphor of a person being like a tree, I think of the roots. They are the foundation, vital to the trees survival but yet they are hidden, underground where nobody can see them.

So to is our foundation as people. It is deep within us, far from anything others can see. And yet it is so crucial. Without a strong foundation, no matter how wide your branches reach or how sweet the fruit you produce is, any small wind can blow you over. So we must invest in our foundation, stay rooted in our traditions to ensure we have the strength to go out and make a difference in the world. 

Shabbat Shoftim Host Maddie Goldberg

kfkff.jpgHi, my name is Maddie Goldberg and I am a senior at UT this semester studying public health. Three years ago, I came to UT from St. Louis, Missouri without knowing anyone. I was nervous about leaving home for the first time, and all I could hope was that I would find a community of people who cared about and valued me. When I went to Shabbat dinner for the first time at Chabad my freshman year, I instantly felt connected to everyone around me in that room. We all had something very special in common: our desire to find a Jewish home in a new place.

I felt so welcomed by Rabbi Zev, Ariela, and their entire family. I knew at Chabad I could be myself, and I felt a sense of unconditional love and acceptance that can sometimes be hard to find in a new place. As the year went on, I found myself looking forward to Friday nights because I craved this feeling of warmth that Chabad provided me with. I began celebrating Shabbat more than I ever had at home, and my connection to Judaism grew stronger and stronger. When I studied abroad my second semester of junior year, I genuinely missed my weekly Shabbat dinners and the feeling of comfort that I got from them.

I am so happy to be back with my Chabad family this year as a member of the student board. I chose to be a student leader for Chabad because I know just how special it was for me to find a Jewish home when I came to college. In my position, I hope that I can make younger students feel as comfortable and welcomed at Chabad as I do! 

JTRIBE President Inbar's Dvar Torah

IMG_7821.jpegShabbat Shalom everyone and welcome :)

My name is Inbar Turjeman and I am a sophomore at UT studying economics and sociology. Thank you so much for coming tonight, and if you are in Jtribe, don’t forget to submit your deposit for our Florida trip happening in may. They are due this monday at 11am! and... just kidding, happy April Fools.

This week’s Parasha is Parashat Tazriah, and it’s all about the types of purity and impurity that is present in our lives. In it, god speaks to Moses about specifically the purification of mothers after and before childbirth and the purification of the child itself after birth. For example, mothers go to a mikveh before childbirth, and a son shall be circumcised after the 8th day of his life, as I am sure some of you guys are very well aware. It also touches on how a person can be born with Tzaarat, which is a supra-natural plague,that is often seen when white or pink patches appear on a person’s skin. In that case, a kohen is summoned and declares the child as “pure” or “impure”. If the child is impure, they are asked to distance themselves from camp and temple until they are clean again.

At first look, the distance a person is forced to keep from the temple and camp may sound like a punishment. However, when you think about it more deeply, it may seem like a gift. The distance doesn’t come from thinking about the plague or sin, but rather from awareness of one’s impurity and the potential to overcome it. It encourages “heshbon Nefesh”, or self-reflection, and makes us put the past and future aside, and look at our present. It encourages us to take a break from the norm, something that does not often happens as busy students, and let our thoughts and feelings run through our minds. This is so important, and is often overlooked.

This week’s Parasha made me think about a conversation I had with a friend this week about “boundaries”. Now, Boundaries have become a sort of a buzz word nowadays, as it got the connotation that putting boundaries in place between you and others means that you are cutting them off, and that you don’t care to have them in your life anymore. But boundaries don’t necessarily mean that! In fact, when you put a boundary between you and a person, you allow for distance to think and value both yours and their needs. That distance allows you to calmly and truthfully explore your connection with the person, and appreciate their company even more. We shouldn’t be afraid of this distance, and of cutting someone of, because in that distance you really understand the purity and impurity of your relationship. The distance has a role and you can take advantage of it by truly realizing whether the connection is healthy, and is worth pursuing through obstacles and misunderstandings!! At the end of the day, a pure connection will last through challenge or disagreement and will end up stronger for it.

So, long story short, when you focus on the present, and the connection that you’ve acquired and made so far, take a little distance, and set a boundary. Think about whether those connections are making you happy, passionate, kind, whether they push you, or just bring you down. Learn that it’s okay to reevaluate and put your needs first too- you can’t stretch yourself in 500 different directions and try to please everyone without drowning in the toxicity and losing track of your needs and values too! Keep only the pure connections in your life, and you will feel better, I guarantee it. Anyways, Thank you for listening to my rant, and again, for coming. Shabbat Shalom everyone.

Graduating Senior Gaby Souferian's Dvar Torah

IMG_6291.jpegShabbat Shalom! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Gaby Souferian, and as of this month, I’m a graduated senior here at UT!  Rabbi Zev convinced me to say a few words tonight and to be honest, I had no idea where to begin when I started to think about my Jewish journey here at UT.

Coming to Austin from Los Angeles as a Persian Jew, I was in the minority, not only from being out of state but from my background and religious observance. I came to Texas eager to challenge myself and my beliefs, looking forward to meeting people who were like me- sharing both similar and completely different values than me. I soon joined AEPhi and met some of my friends who could relate to my love of Judaism, the holidays, Israeli music, and Israel.

I’ve been coming to Chabad for the past 4 years for Shabbat dinners, lunches, and the holidays, and I am really grateful to have found such an amazing home away from home here.

In this week’s Parsha: Vayigash, Jacob goes to Egypt with “70 soul”- singular rather than the plural ‘souls’. I discussed this with some of my close friends from Israel and considered the beautiful message behind this minor change in grammar. We concluded that he dropped the plural for ‘souls’ because he believed that these 70 people were all brought together and unified by one soul. This message of unity really stood out to me because although we may look at the same things in different ways, we still share the same goals and values as Jews. 

I’ve learned that this really applies to my life and my time spent here at UT. Although I may look at things differently: celebrating holidays or interpreting texts from the Torah differently, I still have this community and all of you here tonight to share my story and my interpretations with.

Some advice I want to offer: I really believe that we get what we put into things… In other words, when we all came to college and moved away from home, whether it was from Dallas, New York, or Los Angeles, we started to make our own decisions in figuring out what our OWN values were, separate from our family’s. That could look like going to more Shabbat services or dinners, less than, or none at all.

For me, it’s been really important to hold on to my Jewish identity and I truly want to stress that if you have any interest in delving deeper into your identity or have started to question a belief you may have, I encourage you to really take advantage of the people you have here, not just Zev and Ariela but each other. Starting these conversations and challenging yourself can sometimes be difficult, but it is so worth it. 

To Zev and Ariela: Words truly cannot express how grateful I am for your constant love, support, and willingness to always challenge me in the best ways possible. I have had some of my most memorable times here at Chabad, and I look forward to coming back in January and doing it all over again for one last semester.


JTRIBE Shabbat Dvar

IMG_2917.jpeg"Like an award-winning movie whose opening scene captivates the attention of the viewer, generating a question whose answer then unfolds over the course of the film, this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, opens to a fascinating exchange between Jacob and his messenger “angels.”"

There is still much that Jacob faces what he believes is an existential threat: confronting his brother Esau. This moment could either heal the rifts in their family or threaten his very life. Jacob thinks first about his family and only afterward about himself. After he takes measures to protect those he loves, he undergoes an experience that defines the Jewish people and goes across the river where he “struggles” with the angel.

It is from this brief exchange that the Torah teaches us an important life lesson; it’s not until you face the possibility of losing everything that you realize what’s important to you.

I’m sure these last few years have been extremely hard for you, just as it has been for me. I almost lost two family members and have struggled with major stomach problems (and those of you who know me, know I am doing much better) but I learned who my true friends are and what is important to me. I have realized what I enjoy doing and what I want to do with my life which is why I am graduating two years early and going to Israel because I yearn to be there.

Over Shabbat and Thanksgiving break, I ask you to think about what’s important to you and what your attainable goals are and how you will achieve them. Just how Jacob and I realize what’s important to us, I hope you do as well.

Shabbat Shalom Adina Ichilov :)

Welcome Back Shabbat Student board Speech

image0 (72).jpegHi everyone. So happy to be back with you all this evening. I wanted to discuss a bit of the parsha this evening even though I know Rabbi Zev and Ariela will elaborate on it further. However; Parsha Ki Tavo is very fitting for this first shabbat together. A quote from it reads,

“Then, you shall rejoice with all the good that the Lord, your God, has granted you and your household, the Levite, and the stranger who is among you.”

This parsha as well as this quote, embodies the joy of gratitude, the warmth of a home, the conquering of the past with a foreshadow of the excitement to those who we will welcome in the future. Chabad is not just a place but a home that holds all of the meaning within this parsha. It is the smell of the challah being baked that brings the warmth of a home as well as the friends you meet here who quickly become family. It holds a heavy past of students like you and me meeting our Jewish identities and learning the battles that come along with being Jewish in this world. It is the excitement of turning a stranger into someone you cannot live without. And overall it is a place of gratitude. I am so grateful and blessed to have found a home in chabad through the wisdom of Rabbi Zev, the kindness of Ariela, the laughter and love of their children and all those who embrace my neshama, my soul here. May we all be blessed to fill our lives with light, love and health and rejoice in gratitude because of it. I wish you all a wonderful year, thank you and shabbat shalom. 

Aepi Shabbat Dvar Torah

Jacob Fridakis.jpegBy: Jacob Fridakis

Good Shabbos. My name is Jacob Fridakis for those of you I have not met. First and foremost, thank you to the Johnson family for hosting us tonight. I think I speak for everyone here that you always welcome us with love and it means a lot. Rabbi Zev, you were especially supportive to me during my freshman year and I am so appreciative of that and it means a lot that you would ask me to give this week’s dvar torah.  This week’s parashah is “Emor,” meaning speak in Hebrew. In it it lists the annual Callings of Holiness or the major festivals of the Jewish calendar.  On the seventh day there shall be a sabbath or complete rest, a sacred occasion. In the first month, on the fourteenth day, there shall be a Passover offering to the Lord and on the fifteenth day of that month, the Lord’s feast of Unleavened bread. In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts. And so on and so forth. 

At first, to me it almost sounded like dates were chosen at random however there seems to be a lot of let’s say precision to these days. There’s like an exactness to it. To me, this really underscores the value the tradition of celebrating the various important days in the Jewish calendar. It’s quite powerful knowing that myself, my ancestors and their ancestors all celebrated Sukkot on the fifteenth day of the seventh month. Emor’s intent is to define the rules of holy people, places, and time. Multiple times, the portion emphasizes that the holy time, or moadim is reserved for holy acts, and not mundane activities. These days are reserved for restful reflection and concentration. Yet, every week we get one of these days, Shabbat. I think now, more than ever given the pandemic and state of the world, taking time for rest is so so important. While we may not be threatened with death if we do not rest as the Emor does, taking time for yourself is crucial for our individual success.

Again, I would like to thank the Johnson’s for hosting us tonight. Good Shabbos and thank you for listening. 

Rabbi Zev’s Funeral Speech of his Bubby

 The following is the speech I gave at my bubby’s funeral. 

1. It’s a rough draft and was presented slightly differently. 

2. This barely scratches the surface of what an amazing lady she was. 


Last Wednesday, After thanksgiving, I was playing catch up with emails. I receive from a daily email, which frankly I often skip, but Bobe Leah wasn’t doing well that day and I needed an extra dose of inspiration. I opened up the email and went to the thought of the day.

It read: 

May the Almighty comfort you amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem

— Text of "Nichum Aveilim"--words of consolation said to mourners

I turned to my wife and said what kind of random inspirational quote of the day is this?!  How could this put this in an email? Well as well all know, later that evening….

I never thought the first funeral I would be officiating at, would be my Bobes. How sad. But also, What a zechus and merit to do this for her. 

I hope we never me together again under these circumstances but only rather at simchas. 

I accepted this role cause she’s my bubby. She certainly meant something different to everyone of us in this room.  But I’m going to share a little what she meant to me. 

For klal Yisroel she was the fighter who stood up to the nazis, part of the Bielski bridge. She even had a little bit of Dr. Ruth in her if you know what I mean. 

To me, her story as well, is one of a sweet loving lady who had a twinkle in her eye and and smothering love for her family and friends. She would kiss you so much till you sometimes couldn’t breathe. And then go back for more!

There are 3 general ideas and lessons I want to try focus on when I think of my bubby. 

3 biggest life lessons

1st point: relationships.

My wife and I, after Bobe Leahs passing, were Speaking on the couch and I quipped out loud - I wonder where Bobe Leah is right now? We both immediately said, with her husband, and then I broke down crying. 

She probably spoke about her husband every day of her life. Even when my wife and I made a trip to see her a month ago the person that she kept asking for the most was her dear husband. The bonds of eternal life and eternal love was so evident and clear. I learned so much from her about what it means to respect your spouse and the truly deep and special bond between a husband and wife, to be close to family - to be a mench, and  to go out of your way and just do the right thing for the people you love  - and trust me I’m still learning from her. 

2nd Point: fighter

She always fought for what she believed in -both at a young age and till the very last moment. People have told me privately how she was there for them during difficult times in their lives, and for me she was there every step of my personal journey - she was thrilled with me in becoming a chabad rabbi and Shliach and having a family and encouraged me to fight for my values and for what I believe in and to fight to be successful both materially and spiritually.

3.  She valued every single day of life.

With that in mind, I would like to tangent slightly to what I felt Gd was supporting me and even crying with me.

The day of Bobe Leahs passings, I called Aunty Sara, who I have to say, was so incredible  in being there for Bobe Leah non stop in her last days. We went over the last prayers one should say, the highlight being that of the Shema. We were both crying in our own ways and we ended the call.

After Bobe Leah passed, my wife and I were sitting on the couch reminiscing about Bobe Leah -and I  was looking for some inspiration and for a coping mechanism and I opened the Hayom Yom,  a Chassidic book of aphorisms and wisdom.

Lo and behold, the lesson of the day read as follows:

My revered father, [the Rebbe Rashab,] once said: The recitation of the Shema before retiring at night is a miniature version of the confession a person makes before his soul departs from his body. At that time, however, one leaves the fair forever; that puts an end to the transactions that can be undertaken “today, [which is the time] to perform them.” When we recite the Shema before retiring every night, we are still in the midst of the fair — we can still achieve something.

Bobe Leah had a real Yiddishe shema.

And please permit me one last almost unbelievable thing that happened on Wednesday.

Reflecting on the daily torah portion - that week we are introduced to LEAH - and the day of her passing it explains the 3 children she had then.

Gd is with her, she is with Gd. She loved. loved Yiddishkeit. She later on learned to love chassidishkeit and found so much nachas from all of us when we celebrated being proud jews. She reflected it in her speeches around the US.. She loved Shabbos, yom tov, matzah ball soup, kichel, shabbos candles. Yet right now she can’t light Shabbos candles, so lets resolved to light them for her or inspires someone else to at the right time. Let’s do any mitzvah we can that we feel connected to, on her behalf to bring some level of light out of this  darkness.

I hope that each of us can try in our own way to to live in her legacy, to learn from the lessons I mentioned above. 

May all these good deeds we resolve to do be a tremendous elevation of her soul as well as a comfort for my father and the entire family and extended family and friends.

Nevertheless, I will continue to remember her with her loving smile, and her many yidishe phrases like

A grepsele arois in a gezuntele arein 

Kinder un gelt, is a Shaina velt - I say that often. 

Bobe Leah was my best friend, and she will alway be, my hero, our hero, the worlds hero.

Bobe Leah I hope today, and every day, I will give you what you always wanted and often asked - both yiddishe and chassidishe nachas.

I love you.


Circled is Rabbi Zev’s grandfather Velvel Zev Johnson, fighter and hero of the Bielski Brigade. (JPEF)

Scholar Mrs. Leah Bedzowki-Johnson - Large.jpg 

Watch one of Bobe Leahs speeches here:


With her son standing beside here, Leah Bedzowki Johnson regales an audience of Jewish students at the University of Texas about surviving the Holocaust as part of the famed Bielski Brigade of partisan resistance fighters.


Aron Bell, the last surviving Bielski brother, with fellow partisan Leah Johnson and her grandson Rabbi Zev Johnson at a Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation tribute dinner in New York City. (photo credit: Renee Ghert-Zand). -read her biography and see more videos here.  

Watch on TorahCafé.com!

My Sukkot Speech

 By: David Cohen

IMG_1930.jpgSukkot is a time of change of renewal. Once a year, on this special holiday, we take a break from the ordinary and exit our homes to dwell in the Sukkah. For many, that’s an uncomfortable transition. The heat, the rain, the bugs – there are a million reasons not to enjoy it here. But Sukkot isn’t supposed to be a time of discomfort. Rather the opposite. We’re supposed to enjoy dwelling in this hut. In fact, one of the commandments of the holiday of Sukkot is to be joyful. So, what can we learn from this?


We’re fortunate to have the high holidays line up with the beginning of each new school year. Many of us are experiencing radical change in our lives right now. Between the things we knew we'd put up with (classes, making new friends) and the things that we hadn’t accounted for (like setting aside a 2.5 hour block for laundry, and pledgeship), we've all had our lives turned upside down since being in Austin. 


For those of us who aren't freshmen or transfers, adjustments were still made. Maybe it's your first year having to live off-campus. Maybe you're living in a fraternity or sorority house, having to put up with late nights or other shenanigans. Maybe this is your first year off a meal plan.


Sukkot is a yearly reminder that while all of these changes may stress you out and push you outside of your comfort zone, we’re supposed to appreciate it all. And we should enjoy life. Otherwise what are we doing?


On Yom Kippur, we look inside ourselves and search for problems that need to be resolved. On Sukkot, we do the exact opposite. We enter the outdoors and look externally, and instead of focusing on the negative, we appreciate the beauty and unpredictability of the great outdoors, and life itself. 


Sukkot is about optimism. It’s about finding light in the darkest places. It’s about being thankful for what we have and who we’re with. 


So, as we abandon our homes and enter the Sukkah, you should temporarily abandon your stress and concerns, and focus on what matters in life. In the Sukkah, focus on the big picture, not the nitty gritty of the everyday. In the Sukkah, rediscover your love for life. 

Pink Shabbat

IMG_8350.jpgBy: Sophia Cantor

When my best friend’s mom died from breast cancer during our junior year of high school, it was the first time someone close to me had passed.
I met my best friend Skyler in sixth grade. Thankfully, our younger sisters, who happen to be the same age, became best friends soon after. The first time I met Skyler’s mom, Beth Thomas Stark, was when she took Skyler and I to Six Flags. I went home and immediately told my parents that she was way cooler than them. My dad was fine with this considering he would never drive 45 min to watch me spin in circles.
Though Beth was born in the middle-of-nowhere Kansas, she was well travelled and loved New Zealand; where she raised her daughters Skyler and Kaci. Beth was the valedictorian of her class and went on to be a first generation college graduate. She quickly became a successful scientist, but retired early to fight cancer.
For the 6 years I knew Beth, she was always fighting her breast cancer in a new way. She fought and she did everything for the sake of her daughters. She was able to gain highly specialized cancer treatment due to her expansive and specialized scientific knowledge. Her respect within the science community and high character allowed her prolonged participation in a cancer study even when she was no longer eligible.
Her understanding of life spanned well beyond science. Though she was never religious, she was spiritual and had a deep appreciation for the world around her. She grew plants around the house and had a small garden on the back porch. The front door was painted blue and the door knocker was in the shape of a pineapple; a universal sign of welcome and warmth. Even those who were not close to her, felt enhanced by her presence.
When her life was nearing the end, my friends and I created a scrapbook. We each choose a word to describe her for our own personal page. The word I chose was hero. Beth is my hero because despite the many hardships in her life, she lived in a positive and radiating manner that allowed everyone around her to feel impacted by her wisdom and happiness.
I aspire to live as fully and as gracefully as Beth. I hope to live up to her expectations of respect for others and plan to follow in her footsteps in the field of science to aid in the mitigation of cancer’s impact across the globe.

Jewish Students find comfort at the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center

IMG_4961.jpegOn the corner of 21st and Nueces streets stands a two-story yellow house Jewish students recognize as The Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center, a place of higher worship where they can connect with their Jewish identity. The center provided the same comfort for University of Texas at Austin alum Rabbi Zev Johnson in the late 1990s.
“Chabad was the only Jewish organization open in the summer,” Johnson said. “I got involved slowly and surely to the extent that I said ‘Let me go to rabbinical school and become a rabbi and come back and kind of revolutionize what’s happening on campus.’”
Johnson has been serving as the co-director of the Chabad Center since 2007 along with his wife, Ariela, and their eight children. They hope the family-focused center will create a home for the 6 percent of UT students who identify as Jewish. Johnson connects with students on campus by fostering partnerships with Greek life and teaching a Jewish studies academic program.
“It’s not just the rabbis, it’s the wives and the kids (that) are very involved,” said Johnson, also known as Rabbi Zev. “We are not just a center, rather a home where we are engaging to all.”
Because Johnson also attended UT, he actively tries to integrate the center into different student communities.
To do so, Johnson fostered relationships with Greek houses around campus. He created events for Jewish students in Greek life, such as holding open forums about Judaism, hosting Shabbat dinners and inviting members to pizza-making events.
“I was in Greek life a little bit, so I do get that side of it, which I respect and love,” Johnson said. “We are very involved with the Jewish students in Greek life and there’s a lot of incredible partnerships.”
Senior finance student Jordan Steinberg found out about the center his freshman year when the center invited Zeta Beta Tau to a Shabbat dinner. Even though Steinberg actively practices Judaism, he used to only attend events at the center twice a year. 
“I grew up in a fairly strong Jewish community,” Steinberg said. “I’m from Dallas where I was a member at Temple Emanu-El. It is a very large and strong Jewish congregation.”
But his involvement peaked this semester after he decided to become a Sinai Scholar, a national program that allows him to study Jewish texts and network with other members of the Jewish community. The UT chapter is comprised of 25 students who meet for eight classes each semester at the center.
Steinberg credits the society for helping him grow in his faith and in his relationship with the rabbi.
“Through Sinai Scholars, I have the opportunity to discuss and challenge Zev about Jewish beliefs, customs, and ‘Jewish thought,’” Steinberg said. “Zev creates a learning environment that is open and challenging, and discussion is encouraged. Despite practicing Judaism differently and not always agreeing, I have gained a great deal of respect for Zev.”
Other Sinai Scholars, such as Aviv Navon, knew about the center long before they enrolled at UT. Navon first heard about Johnson from his siblings.
“While they were students, Zev would hold a private session with them one day a year on the day that my grandfather passed away,” Navon said. “As a freshman, when the (date) came, my two siblings and I went to Chabad and just talked with Zev.”
Navon said his first impression of Zev was someone who was not only a great rabbi but also a great person.
“He truly cared about everyone in the community and chose to go out of his way to help us with anything we needed,” Navon said.
This type of compassion is what Johnson said he strives to bring to the University’s Jewish community.
“We give people the tools to get in touch a little more deeper with (their) identity,” Johnson said, “to see what Judaism has to offer, to feel safe and comfortable knowing there is a broader-based community that is there for them as a family.”
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