Jewish Student Life
Jewish life at Skidmore is supported throught the work of many groups and offices, including the student organziation Skidmore Hillel, the Office of Jewish Student Life (part of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life), and Saratoga Chabad. Below you will find information on many of the activities and observances students can take part in while they are at Skidmore. Our offices are also ready to help students organize new initiatives and gatherings to meet their religious, spiritual, and/or cultural interests and needs.
There are weekly student-led Friday evening services, usually held in Wilson Chapel. A weekly dinner follows in the second floor of the dining hall, with a kosher style meat or dairy meal prepared by Dining Services. A vegetarian option is also available. Skidmore is not eqipped with a kosher kitchen. Students who are on a meal plan swipe in; the other students are covered by Skidmore Hillel’s SGA budget. Students may choose to attend services, dinner or both but should be sure to RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org or via Skidmore Hillel if they plan to come to dinner so that we know how much food to arrange. Students hold Havdalah services a few times each semester.
- High Holidays: Services are held on campus as a partnership with Temple Sinai, the local Reform temple. Rabbi Linda Motzkin serves as the High Holy Days chaplain for the Jewish community at Skidmore. Rosh Hashanah evening and day services and Kol Nidre and daylong services for Yom Kippur are held in the Janet Kinghorn Bernhard Theater. Students are also given the times and locations of services in the community if they choose to attend off campus, including information for Conservative and Orthodox communities. The ORSL can help to arrange transportation if students wish to go off campus. Students may participate in the Break Fast after the concluding services at the theater or join in student-organized Break Fast celebrations elsewhere on campus. Holiday meals are served for the evening of the start of Rosh Hashanah and for before the fast for Yom Kippur.
- Accomodations for religious observances: Typically classes are not held on Yom Kippur, though there have been exceptions to this practice due to classroom time requirements. When those exceptions occur, professors are asked to excuse students who are observing and who have made prior notification. Professors and coaches are reminded of the High Holy Days observances in advance. Students concerned about missing classes or course work for a religious observance should speak to their professors at the start of the semester to make arrangements. The coordinator of Jewish student life and the director of religious and spiritual life can assist in this process.
- Sukkot: The students build and decorate a Sukkah on the Case green. During nice weather, they can gather in the sukkah and hang out, study or eat. Skidmore Hillel often organizes other outdoor gatherings during Sukkot, including music nights, topical discussions with faculty and Shabbat and Havdalah services.
- Simchat Torah: Though services are not typically held on campus, students are given the times and locations of services in the community if they wish to attend.
- Hannukah: When Hannukah falls during the semester, there is nightly candle-lighting during the eight nights, often in the dining hall atrium or Case Center. There is also normally a special holiday Shabbat dinner with traditional Hannukah foods, songs and dreidle playing. Around the time of Hannukah, Skidmore Hillel also collaborates with other religious and spiritual groups on campus for a multifaith holiday celebration, Holidaypalooza, which raises funds for a cause selected by the participating groups and raises awareness about religious diversity on campus. Past causes have included disaster relief, homeless shelters and scholarship funds.
- Tu B'shevat: This holiday often falls during winter break, but when it doesn’t, Skidmore Hillel has celebrated with guest speakers or student-led programs that highlight the holiday's themes.
- Purim: Organized each year by the students, obervances have included on-campus Purim parties, hamentashen baking gatherings, and readings of the megillah in collaboration with local Jewish communities.
- Passover: With the support of the ORSL, Dining Services and the Jewish student life coordinator, students lead their own first-night Seder. Often the haggadah used is one that has been researched, complied and shaped by Skidmore students themselves. Dining Services clears an area of the dining hall to provide Passover food for students, staff and faculty who are observing dietary restrictions for the holiday.
- Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day): When this observance occurs during the semester, there is often a gathering with candle-lighting. Students may also organize other events, exhibits and speakers to mark the memorial.
Speakers and programs
The Office of Jewish Student Life, part of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life,
brings speakers to campus and helps to co-promote programs of Jewish and/or interfaith
interest that are generated out of other offices on campus. We work closely with the
Office of Special Programs on both the Greenberg Middle East Scholars and Perlow programs.
We have worked with the Periclean Honors Forum and academic departments and programs
including government, religion, music, and Latin American studies. In recent years
we have brought several speakers, including Professor Stephen Hoffman, Professor Rabbi
Michael Cohen, Professor Feryaz Ocakli, Israeli entrepreneur and negotiator Gershon
Baskin and West Bank nonviolent activist Ali Abu Awwad. There have also been discussions
organized by Skidmore Hillel and JStreetU in collaboration with other campus groups.
The Northeastern New York Jewish Federation helps to support many of our programs,
and we work closely with local Jewish congregations on projects such as the Jewish
Cultural Festival each summer. During the festival, the office has hosted programs
including "Bubby's Kitchen," "Life in a Jar—The Irena Sendler Story," the Mitzvah
Project, Letters to Sala, and Cantor Micha'el Esformes. We have had guest speakers
on Kabbalah, Judaism and the environment, and eco-Kosher practice. Other collaborations
with local temples and churches have included a screening of the film Paperclips and the theater program Letters to Anne and Martin. Students have especially enjoyed participating in a bread and Torah workshop with
Rabbi Jonathan Rubenstein and Rabbi Linda Motzkin that introduces them to the traditional
practices of challah baking and scribal arts.
Student-organized discussion groups have included topics such as Jewish identity and gender, being Jewish in college, and Passover and prison justice. Visiting scholars sometimes join in these discussions and have brought their experiences and expertise to topics including world Jewry, anti-Semitism, and views toward Israel.
Community service and social-justice projects
Over the past years, the office has sponsored several Tikkun Olam programs and co-sponsored projects with other student clubs. In addition to the Holidaypalooza fundraiser mentioned above, the office has held bone-marrow drives through Be the Match, joined in disaster relief efforts with Temple Sinai and organized drives for food pantries and local shelters.
Martina Zobel, the Jewish student life coordinator, works to support student-implemented Jewish-themed programs on campus, both with Skidmore Hillel and with other interested students. She coordinates with the Skidmore Hillel leadership team to support its events and programming. The director of religious and spiritual life, Parker Diggory, is also available to advise and support student initiatives.
The director of religious and spiritual life is available to students of any tradition to talk about issues of spiritual concern or pastoral care. We also have strong relationships with local Jewish leaders, including the Skidmore High Holidays chaplain, Rabbi Linda Motzkin, and we would be happy to help students connect with a leader or advisor from their preferred tradition. Jewish staff and faculty also serve as mentors and informal advisors for Jewish students.