A Place to Call Home for the Jewish Community

Walking around Athens, Ohio, there is a prominent presence of churches. In fact, there are more than 30 in the city. But where do those who practice minority religions go, specifically Jews? This was a question I asked myself when I entered Athens as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed freshman ready to soak in what the college world had to offer. 

Moving to a new place means having to find new places to shop, new doctors to see, new places to eat and, for some, a new religious institution to attend. When you grow up attending church, mosque or synagogue your whole life, it becomes a part of who you are and the congregation becomes a second family. My first year of college, I felt lost without a place to practice Judaism, but then I found my second family. 

Hillel and Chabad at Ohio University provide students and the Athens community a place to share their Jewish culture. According to Hillel International, about 550 Ohio University students are Jewish, which is about two percent of the student body. However, Hillel and Chabad welcome people of different faiths.  

Established in 1938, Hillel has a long-standing tradition of building the Jewish community in Athens. The impact Hillel has on the community was prevalent the first time I attended Shabbat services. I walked into the family house on Mill Street not knowing anyone and worrying about whether or not it would feel like my synagogue back home. Immediately, the environment was warm and welcoming, and many members of the community were represented: students, locals, professors and even people who traveled from outside of Athens. 

Hillel also serves Jewish student groups, provides work and internships and the opportunity to go on Birthright—a free trip to Israel if you are Jewish provided by the Birthright Israel Foundation. After attending Hillel’s Shabbat services for a few weeks, I decided to go on Birthright. Going to Israel with Hillel allowed me to further explore my Jewish identity and make lasting friendships. 

Many of the friendships I made were with people who were also involved with Chabad. While Hillel is more focused on the Athens community as a whole, Chabad is a place for students to feel at home and “where being Jewish is fun,” according to Rabbi Levi and Chanee Raichik, founders of Chabad. Even though Chabad was established just four years ago, it has been very successful in reaching out to the Jewish community and also providing internships and Shabbat dinners as well as a Torah study program called Sinai Scholars. 

Although the Jewish population in Athens is small, there is certainly room for two places for Jews to call home. Whether it is Hillel or Chabad or both, you are sure to find your second family. 

Image Credit: A member of Hillel took the photo. It is posted on Hillel’s website.

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