Far from home, students at Brown and the Rhode Island School of Design come together on College Hill annually to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
The holiday, observed with religious services, candle lighting and meals, marks the start of the Jewish High Holy Days. It typically takes place in September or October, meaning it is the first of the Jewish holidays many students celebrate away from home.
The Herald spoke with students and religious leaders on College Hill about how they adapt Rosh Hashanah traditions to a campus setting — and how they came together to celebrate this year.
Rabbi Jason Klein, associate chaplain of the University for the Jewish community, told The Herald that one of the first questions he often receives from first-year students is how to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.
Students are often excited to find elements of the celebration that are familiar to them, such as specific foods, sights, traditions and smells, he explained.
At Brown-RISD Hillel, where Klein is also a rabbi, many of the songs and tunes played for Rosh Hashanah are “familiar across many communities” for this reason, he added.
This year, Rosh Hashanah also coincided with Hillel’s Friday Shabbat dinner — a weekly tradition where community member gather at the center for a meal.
This weekend’s meal attracted approximately 400 attendees, Klein said, up from roughly 150 and 300 attendees at the prior two meals.
At College Hill’s Chabad House, leaders Chana and Mendel Laufer held their annual Rosh Hashanah dinner for students from Brown, RISD and Johnson and Wales University.
For Mendel Laufer, the holiday means celebrating “with great warmth,” “good food” and an environment where “everyone’s a part of the household.”
Growing up, Laufer celebrated the holiday with family amid the Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn.
He remembers eating traditional foods and attending religious services as a teenager, though he recalls “fewer people at the dinner table” than today. This year’s dinner at Chabad House, Laufer said, attracted around 90 students.
Some students organized their own Rosh Hashanah events on campus.
Aidan Berman ’25 organized a group dinner for friends at his suite in Barbour Hall.
“At home, (Rosh Hashanah) used to always be a big family thing,” he said. “Usually my parents would host extended family, cousins and grandparents at the house, and we’d always go to my local temple for services.”
But when hosting his own event, Berman said the holiday signified more responsibility: “It definitely felt more adult.”
In Berman's first year on campus, he celebrated Rosh Hashanah with a “tight-knit group of friends” at Hillel. This year, he also attended Hillel’s candle lighting, where President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 made an appearance to light a candle.
He praised the center’s holiday events, adding that Hillel staff “just try their best to replicate what students would do at home.”
While celebrating on campus is “obviously different than celebrating at home,” Berman said, “it’s definitely a fun experience — and that makes up for it.”
Neil Mehta is a University News section editor and design chief at The Herald. They study public health and statistics at Brown. Outside the office, you can find Neil baking and playing Tetris.