Editor’s Note: In previous copy, emcee Eitan Zecher’s name was spelled incorrectly. Our copy has now been updated to reflect the proper spelling of his name. Additionally, a quotation by Alyssa Gabay has been properly attributed where in our previous copy, her quotation was improperly attributed due to a typo. Our publication sincerely apologizes for the fore-mentioned egregious errors.
“We wanna hear snaps, we don’t want it to just be silence, just the person up here. [For] a lot of people, it’s their first time so they gotta hear it from the crowd!”
Sophomore psychology major and emcee of the night, Eitan Zecher, told this to the crowd at Sermon Slam: Redemption, stressing the importance of audience feedback in slam poetry.
Ten poets, including Zecher, took the stage in the Prince George’s room in Stamp on April 3. The night’s theme was redemption in honor of the approaching Passover, a holiday celebrating redemption from the exodus in Egypt.
LAVI UMD, a student government association focusing on discussing and defining Jewish identity, hosted the event. LAVI “hopes to foster a safe space for the exploration of personal identity and of what it means to be Jewish in the current day and age.”
Sophomore history major and LAVI member Alyssa Gabay said events allowing Jewish students to have open, honest and sometimes difficult discussions on campus are crucial.
“It’s challenging for many American-Jews to identify … it’s important for people to come together and figure out, ‘How do I identify?’ or ‘Why is it important for me to identify? What does this mean to me?’” Gabay said. “Just like any other ethnic group on campus it’s important to have that discussion and outlet.”
Slammers got quite personal, delving deep into their struggles both in and outside of the religion. Shira Neuman, Maryland Hillel’s Jewish Learning Initiative Torah educator, spoke candidly of her struggle to define herself as a feminist while still practicing Orthodox Judaism.
She described herself 10 years ago, saying in her mind, “the words Jewish and feminist met as often as milk and meat did: never intentionally, and, if ever, always a shocking mistake … feminists were those angry man haters who disregard our holy Torah because they think Judaism oppresses women.”
After taking a required Sociology 101 class in college, she said her mindset changed and she came around to identifying as a feminist, especially under the idea that it simply stands for equality.
Although she said she still wrestles with balancing feminism and religion, she continues to “seek and study progress with tradition as my compass. There is only one man I answer to and it’s the big one upstairs.”
Other slammers grappled with different issues surrounding Judaism, such as doubting faith after a loved one dies or dealing with parents who expect them to practice Judaism the same way they do, rather than define it for themselves.
The common concern was how to make Judaism work for each individual, rather than having the religion and its guidelines be defined collectively.
Senior communications major Jake Steiner performed a poem beginning with “being Jewish sucks.” He went on to describe what he felt he was missing out on by going to Hebrew school twice a week or remembering scriptures he didn’t even understand. He would repeat “being Jewish sucks” every couple of lines.
Steiner said he only truly discovered who he was and where he belonged when he arrived at this university and embraced the Jewish community here, joining Jewish a capella group Rak Shalom and taking a birthright trip to Israel. He joined a fraternity and tried “a million” other clubs before realizing the religion he resented actually offered solace for him.
He ended the poem with the same phrase he repeated so many times, but this time, as a question he says he asks himself, “being Jewish sucks, right?”
This university had the third highest Jewish college student population in 2015, and the Jewish community here is thriving with 23 Maryland Hillel groups on campus.
Max Cohen, a Maryland alum, said many people might not feel comfortable talking so bluntly about topics like questioning religion or your parents in everyday conversation, so outlets like this are a good step in starting a dialogue.
“They are important topics of conversation but they don’t necessarily always come up and I think this is, at the very least, a conversation starter, but even more for the performers, a chance to really get up and share their feelings and understand their feelings more through the writing process and preparation leading up to it,” he said.
Featured Photo Credit: Sophomore Psychology Major Eitan Zecher emceed the event, as well as performed his own poetry at the Sermon Slam in Stamp on April 3, 2016. (Jack Angelo/Bloc Reporter)
Kira Sansone is a sophomore journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.