The youngest Jewish group at Arizona State University, Jewish Arizonans on Campus, established a house this semester on College Avenue and 15th Street in Tempe in which students can meet and grow in their faith together.
The house is being leased by Rabbi Yehuda Weiss, the primary JAC leader for ASU students. Prior to moving to Arizona, Weiss worked with Jewish groups in the New York metropolitan area. He moved to Arizona in August and opened his home to JAC students soon after.
The group has seen a dramatic rise in student involvement due to the new JAC house. In fact, Weiss said that since he’s opened his doors to students, participation has doubled. It has become a home away from home for many Jewish students at ASU. Weiss holds massive Shabbat and High Holy Day meals for students, teaches Jewish topic classes and even hosts social events at the house.
Jake Khaz, 19, is president of the student board for JAC and emphasized that having a JAC house is especially important for out-of-state students during the High Holy Days. “We are very family oriented people so we like to spend the holidays with our families but a lot of students come from out of state, and they can’t go home for Passover or Rosh Hashana, and it’s nice for them to have a place where they can go and have a home cooked meal with other people who want to have a family style atmosphere near campus.”
JAC founder Rabbi Jordan Brumer said that ASU has just over 3,000 Jewish students. Considering there are approximately 70,000 students at Arizona State University, this is a small percentage. Arizona as an entire state had about 106,400 Jewish residents in 2011 according to The Jewish Virtual Library webpage. This is much smaller than states such as New York that had over a million. Therefore, it is more difficult for Jewish residents in Arizona and especially students to connect with others in the Jewish community without groups like JAC available to support them.
“I recognized that there was a need to reach out to students who wanted to learn more about their Jewish heritage, and I felt I was fulfilling a void by engaging Jewish kids at the college level,” said Brumer. He had worked with Jewish students at the University of California, San Diego and when he moved to Phoenix wanted to continue this work.
In 2006, JAC became an official Jewish group. It now has programs at the ASU campus as well as community colleges in Phoenix and the University of Arizona in Tucson. As of today, approximately 650 students are involved total and a couple hundred at ASU said Brumer.
JAC offers many opportunities to Jewish students besides just the High Holy Day dinners. One of its most coveted programs is its Maimonides Leaders Fellowship classes. This is a 10-week fellowship in which Jewish students gain wisdom and values that train them to become Jewish leaders in their community, according to Brumer.
Classes are offered once a week for two hours on Wednesdays to selected Jewish students. Since it is a very popular program, interested students are interviewed and selected by the rabbis before being admitted. Each class has approximately 20 students. Students learn about Jewish history, Jewish ethics and Jewish leadership and have discussions with the rabbis. When students complete the program, they are paid a stipend of $600.
In addition to the Maimonides program, students also enjoy social events once a week. According to Khaz, the social events vary from themed dinners to sports activities like rock climbing. The food is always kosher and 30 to 40 Jewish students attend each social event.
Weiss also provides free Shabbat dinners starting at 7:30 p.m. every Friday at his home. Shabbat is the Jewish Sabbath day of rest that lasts for 25 hours starting on Friday sunset until Saturday sunset. “I like having a place to hang out with other Jewish kids who are like minded. Free food is always good too,” said Khaz. These dinners are open to Jewish students as well as other students interested in learning about Judaism said Weiss.
JAC even provides opportunities to go on numerous trips with other Jewish students. In fact, Weiss is planning a trip to Florida with the students next month. It is entirely paid for except for dinner. There are also trips to Israel offered to students and birthright trips. Birthright trips are a free 10-day trip to Israel for Jewish people 18 years or older.
Rabbi Weiss welcomes all to get involved with JAC even if it is just to come eat with the students during the massive Shabbat dinners. All who are interested should contact him on at the JAC website: http://myjac.org. The group is non-profit and there is no formal membership to take part in JAC events. “Trying something new and going out of your comfort zone is always a little hard for people but a couple servings of roast beef always works things out!” said Weiss.