“Jewish life centered around the home for me. My family emigrated from India to New York and then moved to North Carolina. We kept kosher and celebrated High Holidays and Shabbat, but we didn’t really feel connected to the larger Jewish community.
“When I began studying at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I became a Hillel regular. It didn’t take long for me to realize that Jewish life at UNC Hillel was so different from Jewish life at home. Growing up, I practiced Judaism with older Jewish adults. This was the first time I was surrounded by young Jews — people my age. There were Jewish students from so many backgrounds and cultures. It made me think, ‘Wow, I’m not the only one.’ Because of that, I kept coming back.
“Earlier this semester, Rabbi Melissa, our senior Jewish educator at Hillel, asked me if I would want to plan a Shabbat centered around Indian-Jewish culture. I loved the idea of sharing a part of myself with Hillel. We brainstormed decor, food, customs and services. And my parents helped too. Dinner featured recipes from my family, including my mom’s Indian Kanji chicken, a curry chicken dish I grew up eating on Shabbat. My dad spoke to students about observing kashrut in India. He explained how it was easy for him because everyone eats vegetarian there, but kosher meat is hard to come by because you have to buy it through a synagogue. We also had a group discussion about Indian Jews and the history of our customs and practices.
“I think events like this is a powerful way to learn about Jewish diversity. It goes to show that even if we eat different foods or sing different prayer tunes, we’re all still Jewish. We still have things that connect us.” -- Liron Benjamin, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill