Originally published October 22, 2010
Editor’s note: This is the first in a three-part series exploring student participation in religion on campus.
Look for the rest of the series in the next two issues.
The college experience is full of temptations – parties, alcohol and the opposite sex. As a result, it is believed many students lose sight of their faith that was followed and upheld prior to beginning freshman year.
Last year the Higher Education Research Institution released a survey taken by 26,758 freshmen college students at 457 institutions about first-year experiences.
The survey showed that upon entering college, 41.2 percent of students attended religious services, but by the end of the year only 23.5 percent continued to do so.
These results show attendance to religious services by freshmen dropped 17.7 percent from the beginning of that year.
Although it may appear university students nationwide are losing interest in religion, that is not the case for Bradley. In fact, the presence of religion on campus is hard to miss.
Bradley, as a secular school, provides a home to more than 15 religious groups and organizations that are a large part of hundreds of students’ lives.
At Hillel, the main service of the week is the Shabbat at sundown every Friday. More than a handful of Jewish students begin their Friday night with this service then dinner afterwards.
The atmosphere of Hillel is different than the services and gatherings of other religious organizations on campus.
“There is a nice community feel here,” said sophomore communications major Sam Michaelson. “Plus, I get free food, and it is a place to go on Friday.”
Hillel President Gabriella Granote said the new students have brought a lot of new faces this year.
“This year we’ve had a strong freshmen class,” she said. “We have more conservative Jews which means there are a lot more people at conservative services.”
Freshman biology major Andrea Neudorf said she attends services and gatherings at Hillel most Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons.
“You meet a lot of people here that share the same common ground with you,” she said. “It is also a place to go to practice my religion.”
Neudorf said her family is one reason she has kept up with her faith in college.
“We went to services once a week with my family when I was younger,” she said. “It made sense for me to continue.”
Sophomore pre-education and health science Alan Bukingolts said high school has influenced him to continue his faith at Hillel.
“I went to a Jewish high school, and as a result of that there has been a big Jewish influence,” he said. “Going to a Jewish high school was nice, but I’ve never experienced my faith in a place where no one else is, I feel like I stand out.”
Sophomore sports communication major David Israel graduated from the same high school as Bukingolts.
He said coming to Bradley he was surprised by the number of hateful Jewish jokes he heard.
“One day a kid in one of my classes made a joke about the Holocaust and I wanted to punch him in the face,” he said. “The joke wasn’t funny. I don’t think people understand.”
Bukingolts said even though coming to Bradley was his first experience being a member of a minority religion, he enjoys teaching others about his faith.
“At Bradley I am the one Jewish person everyone knows,” he said. “I love it when people ask me questions about being Jewish.”
Practicing a religion that is becoming a minority can also increase pressures with in families.
“I am expected to marry a white Jewish boy,” said Neudorf. “Both my parents are Jewish and they feel like a minority in America. Therefore they want me to keep the religion alive and historically keep Judaism alive by marrying someone who is Jewish.”
Granote said her family expects the same of her.
“Dating is difficult, and my parents don’t always respect my choice to date,” she said. “They want me to date Jewish boys to keep on the Jewish culture. One day Judaism will be smaller than it is now and who you date really depends on your priorities and how much you place on your religion.”
Even though for some practicing Judaism has caused stresses over dating and marriage, Granote said her religion has taken a different role in her life from when she started college.
“I don’t know what would have happened if I didn’t have Hillel,” she said. “Judiasm has allowed me to understand more things and is a foundation I can rely on, it has been my constant, my rock. I can always come here to have a good connection to my faith.”
Junior music education major Linzi Salant said Hillel has always been supportive, whether or not she attended weekly services.
“I always felt like I was strong in my beliefs and didn’t need to go to temple all the time to reiterate it,” she said. “But Hillel always sets students up with local Jewish families to eat at their house during the high holy days and that was incredible helpful in so many ways. I didn’t actually start participating in events at Hillel until this year and I really like it, it gives me a set time to be thankful and reflect on my behavior.”