Soup & Substance event kicks off Jewish Heritage Week

CMU students listen to Hillel International speaker, Maddi Jackson, Monday, Jan 23, in the UC Rotunda.

The line to enter the Bovee University Center Rotunda circled around the inside of the building Monday evening, with over 100 people in line to attend an event called Soup and Substance: Antisemitism in the U.S.

Attendees heard from a speaker, engaged in group discussion and shared savory matzo-ball soup.

The event was part of Jewish Heritage Week, the first of its kind at CMU, organized by students Elizabeth Slater, Lily Segall and Kirsten Morey with support from Hillel at CMU.

“It’s important to be able to share our culture and educate people on issues that we faced and will continue to face throughout our lifetime, but we want to educate as many people as we can,” Slater said. 

Segall said that the idea for the week started when she heard about a professor on campus performing a Nazi salute and facing no consequences. After that happened, Slater and Morey began planning for the university’s first Jewish Heritage Week on their own. 

The three students had reached out to Multicultural Academic Student Services (MASS) to host five events for Jewish Heritage week and after having originally been denied for being too religious, the university approved all five events Central Michigan Life reported

We first started pitching it and we were getting a lot of pushback,” Segall said. “We were like, ‘we’re gonna make this happen,’ because something about me – and I think this definitely goes for Liz too – is that when someone says ‘this isn’t possible’ or ‘this isn’t going to work,’ I’m going to make it happen.”

Morey said it was challenging for her to not do anything in the face of misrepresentation.

“It was difficult to see that all of the (heritage month) stuff was happening on campus and there was no representation for us,” Morey said. “It was hard for me to know that other groups may not have had these challenges in the past. So I just wanted to do everything in my power to be able to help support and uplift.”

The evening’s main speaker, Maddi Jackson, is the director of Israel Action at Hillel International. She gave an informational speech and led conversation about the history of Jewish people and antisemitism.

Jackson started her presentation by clarifying that connecting to Jewish culture isn’t just religious, and said it can also be cultural or ideological. 

“There are a variety of ways people connect to Jewish heritage,” Jackson said.

She noted that a lack of awareness is usually at the root of miscommunications.

“I think the majority of people are not actually hateful, they’re just ignorant,” Jackson said. “It’s all about education.”

In 2021, there was the highest in recent records for violence against Jewish people, Jackson said, and she expects to see the same when the statistics come out for 2022. 

“There’s such a spike in antisemitism in our country and in the world,” Jackson said. “There’s no better time to be having difficult conversations.”

Many of the students in attendance, like Abbey McKenzie and Kaylee Lewis, are Multicultural Advancement and Cofer (MAC) scholars. MAC scholars are required to attend a certain number of multicultural events.

McKenzie said the presenters shared valuable information during the event.

“I didn’t realize how much prejudice and hate there was against Jewish people before World War II,” McKenzie said. 

Lewis said she and a friend also selected this event to fulfill the requirement of their MAC scholarships.

“We chose this one for our MAC scholarship and we wanted to learn a little bit about the religion,” Lewis said. “I definitely think it’s important because there are people who have been hurt because of antisemitism.”

CMU student Moises Perez said he decided to come for the educational opportunity. 

“I think it's important because we need to educate our community and bring out underrepresented voices,” Perez said. 

Another student, Raven Hullum, said there was another valuable takeaway in the scope of antisemitism.

“I also learned that antisemitism isn’t just for Jewish people, it’s for anyone of color,” Hullum said.

Slater, Segall and Morey, who organized the event, were not entirely alone in the process. They  had assistance from on-campus organizations including: 

  • Hillel at CMU
  • The Office of Student Activities and Involvement
  • Multicultural Academic Student Services
  • Residence Life

There was also a security presence at the event which checked bags and scanned attendees with metal detectors. 

Morey said she’s looking forward to the rest of the week's heritage events, and appreciates the opportunity to share knowledge.

“I think it’s really important, the entire week as a whole, to be able to educate people about these topics,” Morey said. “I come from an area that had no clue about Jewish culture or education about it. So to be able to provide that to other students who also may not have this education I find is really important to me.”

The events for the rest of Jewish Heritage Week include:

  • Tuesday, Jan. 24: Jewish Cultural Food Night
  • Wednesday, Jan. 25: Holocaust Remembrance Night
  • Thursday, Jan. 26: Dreidel Night
  • Friday, Jan. 27: Jewish Trivia