‘Jews of Brown’ celebrates cultural diversity online

Popular Facebook page explores student perspectives through portraits, personal stories

Contributing Writer
Thursday, March 20, 2014

“What does being Jewish mean to you?”

Jews of Brown, one of the campus’ latest Facebook fads, poses this question every day. Using a photo and quotes to spotlight students who identify as Jewish, the page currently has 628 likes and garners anywhere from 40 to 130 likes per photo.

Each post seeks to feature a different experience of Jewish identity, in addition to highlighting the student’s hobbies, interests and achievements. Though the posts present a diverse array of student interests, the question tying all the profiled students together is about how they relate to their Judaism.

The page is the brainchild of Rebecca Carrol ’15, who launched the venture last semester as part of her engagement internship at the Brown/RISD Hillel, a job in which Jewish students spend a year collaborating on projects that connect with elements of the larger Jewish campus community. Carrol said she drew inspiration from “Humans of New York,” a website that individually profiles New Yorkers with photos and quotes.

Carrol wanted to portray the individual stories of Jewish students to show religion means something different to every student — the page is a celebration of individual Judaism at Brown because “every single post is unique,” she said. “I know for a lot of people, it means very different things, and also the quirks show what makes everybody different.”

While some featured students emphasize the faith-based aspects of the religion, most frequently refer to the culture surrounding Judaism — songs, food, community and family are common themes.

The page demonstrates the diversity of the Jewish community,  as each student interprets the religion individually, said Sara Miller, senior Israel engagement fellow at Hillel.

“Being Jewish on campus can take so many different forms, and I think that’s reflected in the student body that we have, and the types of Jewish students we have on campus,” she said. “And it really further illustrates, no matter what you look like or how you identify, you are welcome in this community.”

Miller added that “inclusivity is the biggest part” of the page because anyone who identifies as Jewish can participate.

The page’s immediate popularity took Carrol by surprise. “Seeing how many likes or comments a photo has is heartwarming,” she said.

Carrol started as a one-woman team, taking photos, conducting interviews and recording students by herself. But this semester, she teamed up with six other student photojournalists to expand the project. Each team member is assigned a specific demographic of students, such as male seniors, and a day on which to post.

Nikki Haddad ’16 joined the team this semester, posting features on female sophomores every Thursday. She said she sees the page as a forum for students of all Jewish backgrounds, even those who might not feel as connected to the faith.

“It’s giving a voice to these people who would otherwise not really have a voice in terms of their religion, and I think that’s a really powerful thing,” she said.

Haddad added that she is not surprised by the rapidly growing popularity of the Facebook page, adding that she believes students are receptive to learning about their peers on College Hill.

“I just love all the Jews that I know — they’re all just such wonderful people,” she said. “They just bring so much to the Brown campus and Brown community that I’m not surprised at how the page has taken off.”

The beauty of Jewish identity comes from its variety and scope in terms of what an individual can contribute to the community, wrote Alisa Kotler-Berkowitz, director of engagement at Hillel, in an email to The Herald.

“Jewish identity can have so many different definitions and visions, and still all be valid, valued and real,” she wrote. “I hope that through the variety of stories told, this message is clear.”

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