A Look at Jewish Life at Emory's Oxford College
By Rachel Kroger, Oxford '23, Emory '25
Judaism has always been a part of my life, from lighting the weekly Shabbat candles to keeping Kosher, to teaching Hebrew at my synagogue, and to the little Magen David that hangs around my neck every day. It has always been a constant, so when I arrived at Oxford College of Emory University, I knew I had to join the sole Jewish organization on campus, the Jewish Student Union (JSU). Similar only in name to the JSU I was president of in my High School, the JSU at Emory was comprised of and led by students, with some collaborative effort from Hillel and Chabad to create the tight-knit community that exists here at Oxford College. I started strong and became the Treasurer in my second semester as a freshman, submitting budgets and planning events for the rest of the community at Oxford College.
The Oxford experience is comprised of two years in a small liberal arts college environment at the original Emory campus in Oxford, Georgia, that precedes 2 years at the larger campus in Atlanta that is comprised of both undergraduate and graduate students. In my second and last year at Oxford, I was given the position of President of JSU. As president it became my job to lead and create events that would cultivate Jewish pride on campus, including leading Shabbats, trips to Hillel and Chabad for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and other upcoming events like our Purim Party in Dooley’s (our skeleton mascot) Tavern, an Adam Sandler movie night, and a Yom HaShoah Exhibit. All these events are possible due to our amazing executive board.
New faces and places
Being president of the only Jewish organization on campus is an amazing experience, but my favorite experience so far was my Birthright Trip with Hillel this past December over winter break. Israel in December included new friends, delicious food, fun nights, and new experiences. I have been to Israel twice before, once for my Bat Mitzvah, and then on a teen trip with my Synagogue. Both were eye-opening experiences, but this trip was different. In going I brought one friend from my JSU executive board, and I came out with ten more friends. Birthright is unique because it is a mix of a grueling trip packed full of activities from 9 to 5, but with the added freedom of nights out. This was my first trip in which we were treated as adults who could manage their own time in a foreign country. This freedom led to close friendships via moonlit walks and nightlife activities, to rainy bus rides where we slept on each other's shoulders.
The trip felt so short, and so long at the same time. Halfway through the trip, I was confused about how much time had passed while simultaneously tired from all the booked activities. On the last night, we partied hard into the night, and on the last day, we all cried saying goodbye to each other. I know I will never get this same experience again because each trip is so unique with different people in each group and no group ever being the same. I will always remember this trip fondly and never forget the people I bonded with throughout it.
Same faces, different spaces
(Yeah, I know that title is corny but it rhymes sooo…) Being an active part of the Jewish community, I have tried my best to take part in any and all instances of learning at Emory. So last semester, I took part in Hillel’s Holocaust Learning Fellowship (HLF) at the Atlanta Campus because it was conveniently after my one class there that I had to commute for. This experience was also very informative, but it was not easily accessible to me, and I was the only Oxford Student there due to the 40-minute drive from my campus to the Atlanta one. However, this semester, Oxford College finally had enough students to create our own cohort of Hillel’s Jewish Learning Fellowship (JLF), the first cohort of JLF at the Oxford campus.
This is a very big deal because Oxford college has never had enough people to create a JLF cohort here. I am glad that there are so many students here that wish to learn more about Judaism’s core values and that they all decided to do this together as a group. We meet every week and gather around with our food and converse about the questions that leave us asking more questions. I hope to learn more about the people in my cohort as we tackle these topics that have fostered conversation for Rabbi’s for years.
To new places
As I approach the end of this semester and the end of my time at Oxford, I can’t help reflecting on all that I have done and all I hope to do in the future. I know no matter what, I will continue to take an active part in the Jewish community. I will miss the Oxford campus, where I’ve created a home, and I know that even though this is the end of an era, I will continue to take part in my community at Emory’s Atlanta campus. So far, I have already started to cultivate new communities in my sorority, Delta Phi Epsilon, at Emory Radio, WMRE, and in my application to Hillel’s executive board. I look forward to the next two years at Emory!