Student perspectives

History in a Modern Perspective

Only a week ago I would have put movies like The Day After Tomorrow, Independence Day, 2012, and the latest Batman movie on my must-see list. Apocalypse-style movies have an unexplainable draw - they’ve got the fast pace; they’ve got the action; for some they even offer a bit of realism.

Fighting for food, for freedom, and for life is such a romantic notion, and it's often dramatized on the big screen with trained actors, makeup, and props.

Last week’s event about the Bielski Brigade and about Bobe Leah Johnson’s inspiring story served as a reality check for me. That constant fight for food, freedom, and life was a reality for her and for millions of others less than a century ago, including for two of my own grandparents, a great aunt, a great uncle, and countless other family members.

My grandparents have only recently started telling me about their experiences during the Holocaust, and there’s still so much I don’t know. My grandfather was marched from Romania to a concentration camp in Ukraine – over 4000 kilometers by foot in any weather or condition. My grandmother escaped from Poland on a train and spent years hiding in Russia and in Central Asia.

No matter how much I hear about the Holocaust from my grandparents and how much research I do, I will never be able to fully appreciate their courage and faith, which is unfortunately found too rarely in my life, but which my grandparents, Bobe Leah, and so many others were blessed with.

I complain too much about homework and the weather, when instead I should celebrate every moment of the life I have and take every opportunity to improve the lives of others. I’m 18 and live at a time when I can do more than I ever could, and that’s thanks to my grandparents and everyone who has lived before me. Instead of glorifying fake battle scenes and empty characters, I’m going to try harder to exemplify the positivity and joy that Bobe Leah and my own grandparents have.

A few weeks ago, Ariela spoke about each of us being a light for others and spreading Judaism and goodness. I think spreading a message of joy and hope while still remembering all that has led to today is one way of being that light.


Meital is pictured on the right. 

Help Send a Thank You and Reflection to Bobe Leah Johnson

The plan is to send Bobe Leah the picture below as well as y'alls comments and reflections and thanks to her, in appreciation for her sharing her story and message with the UT Austin community.


Please comment below and thank you!


For more info on Mrs. Leah Johnson see:





A Presence Through Each Day

Good Shabbos! In this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Terumah, G-d tells the Jewish people to build the Mishkan, a portable dwelling place for the divine presence. It is a very detailed parshah, but one of the things I found most interesting is the language that Hashem uses to describe the command. The parshah reads: "And they should make a Sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them." Why does G-d say this in such a strange way? As Rashi points out, it would make more sense to say, “they should make a Sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell within it." So why does it say, "that I may dwell among them?"

When we take a closer look at how G-d describes the purpose of the Mishkan we can begin to see that Judaism is not meant to be something that we keep as a separate piece from the rest of our lives. Our Judaism should not just be segregated to attending shul on Friday night, but rather a presence that guides us through each day. We have to ability to feel a connection not limited to special places or moments, and if we make space within ourselves, G-d can be present from the moment we wake up in the morning, on our walk to class, and everything in between.

It is easy to get caught up in our society's focus on the exterior: the brand of your shoes, the name of your fraternity - your outward appearance. Obviously we must take care of our physical selves, but by shifting our focus, we can create space in our lives for Judaism. This can be anything from lighting candles before Shabbat to singing a Matisyahu song.

These connections teach us mindfulness, and an innate sense of love and  kindness. I know that when I come this house on Friday nights I feel that connection, the love and the kindness. We are so fortunate to have such a special place on our campus to help guide us through our college experiences and build that space for G-d within ourselves. I challenge you all to dedicate more time to what truly matters, and create places for goodness and space for G-d in your everyday lives. 

Shabbat Shalom and thank you to everyone for always making my Shabbats here so warm, fulfilling and full of light. 


Brittney is pictured on the right. 

In Memory of Jonathan Frid

Thank you to ZBT for sponsoring this dinner. It has been incredible to see you grow in your relationship with Chabad and to lead the effort in making this place what it has become. And thank you to the Prescott family for also sponsoring. I am blessed to call you my family. You are unbelievable people.

Jon Frid was a proud Jew. A really proud Jew. Having been lucky enough to live with him for two years in college, I recall him using Yiddish words around the apartment and speaking about Saychul. Some of my most fun times with him were on Friday afternoons where we would blast a techno version of a great Hebrew song: Anachnu maaminim v’ maaminim. “We are the believers, children of believers, and we have none else to rely on but our father, our father in heaven.” The song was simple and made sense: as Jews, we look to G-d.

I remember his natural and intense connection with Judaism. He always encouraged others in their own personal growth. He loved Israel and his visits there, and he was proud of the pictures of him holding a Torah at the Wall.

What really stuck about Jon was his heart. He had an absolute heart of gold. At his funeral his brother remarked that Jonathan would do anything for anyone. He cared more about us than about himself. I can’t tell you how many small and big things he did for others and for me; Chesed, kindness, for the sake of kindness, goes a long way. People loved him for it.

But when we look at his name, it makes sense. His Hebrew name, Nachum, means comfort or one who comforts. It makes complete sense because he had a joyful, caring and full heart. Many times we use trite clichés like these, in an effort to say something coherent during dark times, but for Jon Frid, it was absolutely true. He was the consummate comforter for so many other people.

In Judaism, we pray to G-d in the good and the bad. And on Shabbos, we are commanded to be happy. Jon would be so glad to see everyone rejoicing here tonight, singing and laughing. ZBT Shabbat would have made him proud. It is uplifting. I hope you are very proud of yourselves for coming here tonight.

Good Shabbos, and thank you for thinking of him and his family.

Philanthropy and Alumni at Chabad

Good Evening, Welcome to ZBT Shabbat.

Last week, Rabbi Zev asked me to speak about two things: Philanthropy and Alumni. First, I am going to talk about philanthropy. Philantropy is a core value for both ZBT and Chabad. Many of you in this room have done Philanthropy or attending events for both ZBT and Chabad. Some have attended/participated in these events because they had to, some enjoy it. Some people crossed paths with the authorities and have come to either Rabbi Zev or myself to service opportunities. Regardless of why you do mitzvot you always seem to feel a many wonderful feelings after you have done what ever you participated in. As a Jew, Philantopy is extremely important to incorporate into our everyday lives.

The people who have instilled this value in me are some of the alumni that are here tonight. Both ZBT alumni and Chabad alumni have given me and Chabad more than they could ever imagine. They have truly created the environment of what Chabad is today. They have also helped shape us into the type of people we are today and continue to reach out and help all who are involved in the Chabad community. Whether you come once a year or every Friday the alumni have an instant bond with you that is indescribable but extremely significant. There are not many forums in which this bond is sanctified. However Chabad is one! I urge you all here to be involved meet everyone that is here as one day you all will be alumnis and will have the same connection that I have here right now with Noah, Dash, Franky and everyone else that I have every seen or met that is no longer here. Please take advantage of this great opportunity and Shabbat Shalom.


Ryan is pictured on the left. 

Wisdom From a ZBT Alum

 In the speech, I wanted to display a little wisdom from the perspective as a ZBT alumnus. To all the ZBTs: I understand that life is fun, and these days fly by because we think that if we don't take full advantage of these years in college we won't ever have fun again -- In truth, life goes on after college, and so does the fun. Nevertheless, it's important to preserve identity and maintain Jewish roots. I'm not saying that one needs to compromise their Greek life or college experience so they can make every Chabad event. Still, it's important to maintain a Jewish Identity through these years to carry over to the "real world." When I was a freshman, Jonathan Frid was a senior. He extended much warmth and guidance as a role model. He was IFC president and pre-med at the time. He never let any social status or event ever compromise his Jewish identity and never forgot where he came from. With his example, I attempted to explain to the ZBTs at Shabbat that it is important as upperclassmen in the Fraternity to stay around the house and establish relationships and guidance for the new members. It is imperative to keep the tradition of excellence in the fraternity through being a mensch. That is the difference that sets being a ZBT apart from other fraternities. Don't just be a nice guy - be a good human being and make a difference in this world. Just like Frid, be a role model and a mensch.


Super Bowl Shabbat

This week’s parsha starts with Moshe meeting with his father-in-law, Yitro after the Exodus from Egypt. Yitro observes Moshe judging over the Israelites and notices that Moshe is trying to assist his people in every way possible. Yitro tells him that he needs to delegate his responsibilities because judging over everyone is too much for Moshe to handle. He tells Moshe to appoint judges from his people, and when an issue cannot be handled with the judges, Moshe will then take over.

I know it’s a stretch but trying to keep with the Super Bowl theme of tonight, I thought I would relate this portion to football. Just like with the Israelites, football teams don’t just rely on the head coach, but have defensive, offensive, quarterback, and special teams coaches to name a few. The head coach must rely on the other coaches to train and prepare their players for any call that is made on the field in order to defeat the opposing team. In essence, the head coach has his own support system, in that he relies on the other coaches to help him build a successful team. In life, we must remember that when we are overwhelmed, like the head coach may be on game day, it is okay to ask people for help, just as the head coach asks for assistance. We cannot always be successful on our own and if we have the humility to ask for help, it gives us a chance to learn from others.

In the second part of this week’s parsha, the Israelites prepare to receive the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. They prepared for two days by purifying themselves physically and spiritually as they waited and assembled around the major spectacle. Just like at the Super Bowl, where bright lights shine over the field and fans cheer loudly, there were intense sounds and lights as the Israelites gathered around Mt. Sinai. It could be considered the greatest gathering in the world where they received one of the ultimate gifts from Hashem. Fans argue that the Super Bowl could also be considered the greatest gathering of the year as millions of viewers watch around the world. Similar to how the Israelites prepared for the receiving of the Ten Commandments, football players also train for months to reach their objective of playing and winning in the Super Bowl. When comparing ourselves to the Israelites, the Ravens, and the 49ers, it is important for us to remember that in order to get the prize we want and accomplish our dreams, such as passing a test or winning the Super Bowl, we should only expect our ambitions to be accomplished if we work and prepare for them. In order to be successful, it is imperative to put our best foot forward, ask for help when needed, and not give up on reaching our goals. Shabbat Shalom.


Nikki is on the left. 

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.