By Raya Kazdan, OJSL Staff
Lehigh is a smaller university, and as such has a resultantly modest and tight-knit Jewish community. Being from a larger university myself, it has been enlightening to learn about the dynamics of Jewish life at Lehigh, and humbling to see the great power that is the Office of Jewish Student Life, headed by Steve and Jane who effectively run a dynamic and busy office of affairs. The two of them deserve so much credit in securing the new OJSL building.
Recently, I attended an art exhibit on the significance of architecture within democracy; primarily focused on the idea that a “gathering space” is a necessary characteristic of a modern democratic group or society. The new OJSL serves its community precisely in this manner; it is a space where the Jewish community at large can meet and spend time, and its existence is imperative to the success of our community building initiatives.
Specifically, after about 40 years at Summit Street, the new building offers a modern and spacious place for students to gather for Shabbat dinners, Israel programming, and collaborations with other multicultural organizations. It will serve as the homebase for not only Hillel, but Friends of Israel as well. There is a picnic area which will allow for cookouts in the warm weather. The grassy area will provide a space to build a sukkah for the community to eat in together on Sukkot. Furthermore, other student organizations will be able to reserve rooms or time in the building.
What does this mean?
Research has shown that gathering spaces are correlated with lower stress levels. This is because when a group of people can meet together, they can help ease the burden of their stresses from one another. They can intentionally strengthen their bonds and connections.
Undergraduate life can get lonely, and the past year in this pandemic has revealed the dangers that loneliness and isolation pose for mental health. The OJSL will ease that burden, and as campus transitions back to its vibrant, lively self, the OJSL building will guarantee that the Jewish community will as well.