When Rabbi Esther Reed was asked to write about being a Conservative Jew for a new edition of a best-selling student guide, she was able to draw on her own experiences as associate director for Jewish campus life at Rutgers Hillel.
“My part was an introduction to Conservative Judaism for the student who may not have encountered Conservative Judaism before or is on their own for the first time,” said Reed.
The second edition of Jewish U: A Contemporary Guide for the Jewish College Student by Rabbi Scott Aaron was just released by URJ Press.
Reed first met Aaron, now community scholar for the Agency for Jewish Learning in Pittsburgh, about nine years ago at a conference for Hillel professionals when he was a Hillel rabbi at Ohio University. They have remained in touch as Reed continued her career at Hillel, briefly at Tufts University and later at Rutgers in New Brunswick, where she been since 2001.
When he decided to update his book, Aaron asked Reed to write about Conservative Judaism for the a section “Five Perspectives on Jewish Denominations on Campus.” Other Hillel professionals wrote similar pieces on Reform, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and secular Jewish life.
The book provides entry points to Judaism and, Reed said, is designed “to help negotiate in terms of being a Jewish student away from home for the first time.” It tackles everything from how to spend the High Holy Days away from home for the first time to Judaism’s view on sex.
Jewish U is about “learning to live with your roommate, learning to share space, how to live a kosher life,” said Reed. “There’s a chapter on Greek life and sororities and fraternities. I give examples such as how to observe Shabbat or keep kosher. It’s not specifically about Rutgers, but rather can be applied to any Jewish college student at any university.”
She framed her points in a discussion of the continuing evolvement of Judaism over the centuries and Conservative Judaism’s recognition of its changing nature.
“Not everyone understands that Conservative Judaism comes from trying to conserve tradition while allowing for change within the framework of Jewish law,” she said.
A Highland Park resident, Reed holds a degree in Jewish studies from Bryn Mawr College and was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary. She and her husband, Rabbi Mordy Schwartz, have three young sons.
Reed said she hoped the book would be a valuable tool in helping Jewish college students as they begin making decisions that could affect their lives.
“The difference in transitioning from a high school to college student is that a high school student is told what to do and is corrected if his or her behavior is out of line,” said Reed. “But in college, students have to take responsibility for their decisions and the consequences those decisions may have for those students. They have to be aware they are entering adulthood and an adult world of choices, and they need to make informed choices.
“By extension, I would hope students learn about Judaism so they can make an informed choice about whether to be involved or not involved.”
The book is available at major booksellers and Amazon.com.