Rabbi Joshua Greenberg
May 30, 2024

First-year reflections from Rabbi Joshua Greenberg

A year-in-review with Andover’s Jewish chaplain

A recent graduate of Hebrew College in Newton, Mass., Rabbi Joshua Greenberg joined Andover in fall 2023 as the school’s Jewish chaplain. Greenberg, a passionate advocate of interfaith dialogue and interreligious learning, is focused on nurturing a vibrant, welcoming spiritual community, complementing the chaplains and advisors of all faiths on campus. Here, the Pennsylvania-native reflects on his first year:

I found no better place to embark on my journey as a rabbi than here at PA. It goes without saying, this year has been one of tremendous difficulty for the Jewish community. Over the course of this year, I’ve been in touch with many over email or phone. The number of colleagues, alumni, and parents that reached out to me—not only to check in on the Jewish Student Union (JSU), but on me individually—speaks volumes about the care people hold in their hearts for this institution.

Although it hasn’t been an easy time, I am happy and humbled to say that the animosity that exists in the world did not occur here. This is not only a testament to the Academy leadership, but to the faculty’s unwavering investment into the welfare of our students. I am especially grateful to the chaplaincy team for navigating these times with wisdom and care. In addition to this, and certainly not least, is the remarkable character of the students. This is a community of budding scholars whose resilience and maturity is easy to see.

While it was both necessary and unavoidable to mourn the tragedy of October and the ensuing war, I tried my best to keep our attention—or at least part of our attention—looking toward tomorrow, both as a symbol of hope for better days, and quite literally, the days that lay ahead. Living within the motions of the Jewish calendar is an effective way to do this.

We began by observing the Yamim Noraim—the High Holidays. The JSU held Erev Rosh HaShanah and Kol Nidrei services on campus this year. They were the first High Holiday services held on campus in several years, with students and faculty attending both. A Paresky Commons-catered dinner accompanied the services.

During Sukkot, students built the sukkah that we have stored on campus. One evening during the holiday I brought several assorted pies from a local bakery and held a text study in the sukkah. It was a widely attended event, with many students coming who are not members of the JSU.

Shortly after that, the Jewish people experienced one of the worst traumas since my grandparents’ generation. I held a small vigil, modeled after a Yizkor service, the first Tuesday after October 7. It was attended mostly by Jewish students, as well as a mix of faculty.

As the weeks went on, we finally arrived at Hanukkah, a much needed and joyful reprieve from the grief so many were feeling. The JSU held a Shabbat-Hanukkah party open to all students. It was our most widely attended event of the year, with probably close to 60 students. And while everyone loves jelly doughnuts and latkes (which I made sure to have!), I also brought in fried chicken—a major hit.

After the students returned from winter break, we had Leo Ullman ’57 come speak at an All School Meeting. Ullman is a Holocaust survivor. He spoke to the entire student body about his experience as a child in hiding in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. After his talk he received a standing ovation from the school community.

We held our Jewish Cultural Weekend in February. I brought a friend and colleague of mine to campus, Yoni Battat. Yoni’s family traces their lineage to the Jewish community of Iraq. He is an accomplished musician who composes music using Hebrew, Yiddish, and Arabic influences. He and an ensemble of musicians came to perform a concert, which was greatly received by the students, faculty, and even a few locals. It was something special to hear him weave together lyrics in Hebrew and Arabic on this campus.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, JSU leaders facilitated a workshop based on the movie School Ties, which tells the story of a working-class Jewish boy who ends up being recruited to play football by a school much like PA. Student leaders showed clips of the film and led guided discussions and activities based on their own experiences as Jews on campus. Those who came participated with openness and sincerity.

During Purim, members of the JSU gathered to bake hamantaschen. We enjoyed lively conversation and music as we prepared the dough, spooned in our assorted fillings, and pinched the cookies closed. While they baked, I offered a text study which explored ways Jews have expressed joy during times of crisis in years past.

As Pesah approached, the students were adamant about hosting a seder on campus. I ordered dinner from a local caterer in Newton for roughly 30 people, printed out Haggadot, and made sure Jewish faculty would be included in the celebration as well. Though I was unable to be there, the seder was well attended by students, faculty, and their families. For the second seder, local families of day students graciously opened their homes to welcome boarders at their seder tables.

Lastly, there was a traveling exhibit on Auschwitz that was in Boston for the last few weeks of the academic year. I took a group of students one Sunday in May to experience this limited-time exhibit. It was a sobering morning, but one of great importance. As fewer and fewer survivors will be around in the coming years, it’s a responsibility of us all to bear witness to their experiences and keep their testimonies alive. This is not lost on our students. I feel lucky to work with such a mature and forward-thinking group of young people.

Three times over the course of the year the JSU participated in interfaith dinners with other religious communities on campus. We held panels of the chaplains and students, as well as holding space for small group discussion that included both students and faculty. Even Dr. Kington joined a group! Having the chance to share beliefs and practices with others proved to be a nourishing experience.

We had many smaller gatherings throughout the year on Friday evenings to usher in Shabbat. I would bring challah, grape juice, and some dessert from a local bakery—babka, rugelach, black and white cookies—to make Shabbat a little sweeter.

All of this, of course, could not have been done without support for the Jewish Student Union. It is this generosity that makes these events possible. And I don’t just mean financially—I’m deeply grateful to those who reached out to me this year to check in, offer words of encouragement, and to just generally let me know that I and the JSU were not alone. Thank you, truly, for helping make Jewish life, and spiritual life in general, on campus possible.

Categories: Academics

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