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Jewish Life at Duke

Jewish Life at Duke

Daniel Kort at the Queering Duke History

Daniel Kort is a senior psychology major from Los Angeles. He has appeared in The Washington Post, CNN, Cosmopolitan UK, and The Huffington Post for his work as an LGBTQ advocate. He attended 14 years of Jewish day school, spent a high school semester in Israel, and is a part of the Freeman Center's new LEAD program. In his spare time, Daniel enjoys listening to EDM and is a dedicated Cameron Crazie.Daniel Kort T'15, president of Blue Devils United, speaks at the Queering Duke History event held on September 25th.  Please listen as Daniel uses Rosh Hashanah and his Jewish experiences as a way to frame his message.

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Top 50 Colleges with Active Jewish Communities - Best Colleges

For many incoming Jewish freshmen, the presence of a Jewish student body is crucial. Learn more about the top schools with active Jewish communities.  Read more.

 

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"I am yours, and you are mine"

Each day this week, a member of the Duke community will share their memories of Dr. Angelou.

I was 11 years old in the sixth grade, and I needed something new to read for silent reading time at school. Looking through my family bookshelf, I came across a tiny book that looked pretty well-worn, and its author was someone I’d heard of before: Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  My mom had written her name inside the front cover, and it looked like it was a book she had read multiple times—so I grabbed that one and brought it to school.

I couldn’t ask my mom what her opinion was on the text, at that point, because of the stage of her illness. My mother was diagnosed with brain cancer six years prior, and was in a difficult place at that point in her life. Her name in the book’s cover was all the recommendation I needed to trust her judgment on the quality of this autobiography.

Sitting at school reading the book, I remember wondering whether this content was too mature for me—perhaps, I thought, I should choose something less heavy, like Holes or something. I remember raising my teacher’s eyebrows that I was tackling it at all. Who knows how much actually resonated with me at that point in my life, but I stuck with it, and I never forgot the power of Maya Angelou’s words. I remember trying to hide the tears in my eyes during the difficult moments of sexual assault in the text. I remember my indignation as a young, white female that this young, African American female recalling her autobiography could have faced such a different life than I had. These feelings stayed with me as I got older. Later in my life, I would read Toni Morrison’s novels, and I’d find myself drawing connections back to Maya Angelou’s writing. These books sparked an early anger in me, and were fundamental to my wanting to pursue work in social justice.

This book also left a connection in my head that only a sixth grader could have between Maya Angelou and my mother. That I could ever have connected my mom, a white, Jewish, Canadian woman, to Maya Angelou at all feels a little strange. But for me, I saw reading this text as a way to spend time doing something my mom had done at a time when because of her illness we couldn’t do much together. My eyes following the same words that my mom’s eyes had followed, reflecting on and connecting with the same moments she had read. Whenever I read Maya Angelou again in the years to come, my thoughts would always come back to my mother. I thank Dr. Angelou for being able to connect not just me and my mother, but so many women through the beautiful power of her language.

You could have never convinced me as an eleven year-old that someday I would meet the poet that had inspired me so much. Flash forward to my junior year after I was elected president of Delta Gamma at Duke, where our organization had partnered with Dr. Angelou for 20 years to bring her to campus for Freshman convocation in the Chapel.

I remember sitting with Dr. Angelou before the event in a side room in the front of the Chapel. We were left alone for a few minutes to spend some time together—she could probably hear my heartbeat over where she was sitting. To break my obvious nervousness, she asked me what I was studying. I told her I was a double major in Spanish and History, and a minor in political science. “Ah,” she said, “ ¿hablas Español?” she asked me in a thick accent. And there it was: Maya Angelou and I were speaking in Spanish. (Little did I know, she spoke over half a dozen languages!) Sitting in that room, Dr. Angelou told me she had hoped my introduction of her wouldn’t be a list of her accomplishments, as she found those so boring. I assured her mine wasn’t, and that she could trust me. With my heart beating so fast and my blood rushing a million miles per hour, how could I even begin in that moment to share with her the connections in my head I had between her and my mother, that I’d drawn courage from her for almost 10 years of my life. This moment of spending time with the poet I admired so greatly was unreal. All I could say was that she’d have to let me know afterward what she thought of the introduction.  She told me “buena suerte,” good luck, and that she would let me know.Dr. Angelou spoke so beautifully that summer day in the Chapel. She told the freshman class, “I am yours and you are mine,” noting that she didn’t live far away over by Wake Forest, and they could write to her anytime. Sharing herself with the world was Maya Angelou’s part of her power as a poet. I had considered her words mine since I first read them, and before then her words were my mother’s. Now this incredible woman was offering to share herself with over a thousand more people—I wonder how many letters she got following the event.

After the speech concluded, and the freshmen boarded the parade of C-1s back to East, I stepped outside with my Delta Gamma sisters and my father to meet back up with Dr. Angelou. She greeted us outside with a smile, open arms, and embraced me and said, “Becki, you were so smooth!” I could have fainted.

The world lost a beautiful mind last week, and the Duke community lost a piece that was shared with us for so long. I am incredibly privileged to have met and spent time with Dr. Angelou, a woman whose writing will be a part of me for the rest of my life, and created an eternal connection to my mother. May she rest in peace.

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Rubenstein Gift to Enhance Jewish Life at Duke

Duke University trustee David M. Rubenstein is giving $1.9 million to Jewish Life at Duke to expand programming, fund building renovations and enhance the college experience for Jewish students.

Most of the gift -- $1.5 million -- will fund new initiatives and staff positions for a Jewish student population whose needs and interests are changing, said Rebecca Simons, the center's director. New programs are expected to reflect an increasing student demand for information and resources related to globalization, leadership and community, she said.

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Heartache

You take a step and then you take another step. You’re on the bus
You regret having only gone to sleep only a few hours earlier
You blame your team for winning but not really because you figure you could sleep on the bus and well, you like to brag about your team to people back home
You find a seat in the back of the bus because you want your space to sleep, think and be
You arrange your body in a manner that is somewhat comfortableYou fall into a sleep that your mind and body yearned for
But you have a nightmare.
You dream of a world where nonviolence prompted violence
You dream of a world where innocent children and adults were the victims of bombings
You dream of a world where the best and the brightest were pierced by arrows of hatred
You dream of a world where people your own age decided that they were strong, brave and selfless enough to risk their lives
Who jumped on buses,
Without knowing who or what they would arrive to
Your body jerks at the sound of parents screaming as they learn about their child’s death
You fall to your knees when you see the caskets of the young and innocent
Your heart aches for the precious faces that no longer smile
Your heart cries when you see the faces of the ones you love in these caskets
You wish you had the power to protect them, to shield them, to hold their hands
But you don’t.
You sit paralyzed
You sit paralyzed
And, You stay paralyzed
And then you feel the slap of a heavy rough white hand
Of someone who thinks you deserve such pain
You look down at your body
At the darkness that makes you invisible yet outs you as the most visible
The heavy rough white hand continues to destroy and dismantle
The blows persist
But so do you.
It continues for what feels like decades and decades and it then it feels like centuries
You persist, and you become stronger, and you are proud of who you are.
We are here! Someone’s voice sings.
Your eyes snap open and you take in a sharp breath
You slowly rise
Your neck is sore from the hard armrest and your lower back hurts
You sit up and look out the window
You’re back at Duke

But the heartache is as painful as ever

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New Sites, New Perspectives

Public Policy

I am now a few days removed from my Roots to Rights alternative spring break experience. The trip included several hours riding from place to place, and it was a bit hectic to move from one hotel to another. But this experiential education tour gave me a unique perspective on a region I have lived in for my entire life but soon realized I had a lot to learn about.

Our tour of Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Mississippi stands as one of the highlights of the trip for me. Our tour guide, professor Jen Stollman, said that she wanted to demystify the South for people. As someone who grew up in Durham, North Carolina, I always viewed my hometown as a progressive hub that was merely surrounded by rural communities of Confederate flag-waving racists. But Stollman emphasized that people should not look at the South as a foreign, backward place, but as a complex region still dealing with the remnants of its troubled past. Stollman noted the contradictions of the South – how, for example, it included more interactions among whites and blacks. And yet, the first thing many people see upon arriving at Ole Miss campus is a towering monument for Confederate soldiers.

The trip included many unique opportunities. We heard civil rights icon Julian Bond speak at Alabama State University, visited the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, Alabama and heard a detailed recounting of Bloody Sunday – when six hundred protesters, marching in remembrance of Jimmie Lee Jackson’s death, faced billy clubs from police officers.

But it was also important to hear about these issues in the context of the twenty-first century. An archivist at the Southern Poverty Law Center spoke about Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, a 2012 book on the War on Drugs and mass incarceration. We saw the urban blight of several Southern cities – the lack of jobs, affordable housing and quality education. Chandra Guinn, the director of the Mary Lou Williams center and a staff member on the Roots to Rights trip, said that the Confederate monument for Duke is the Aycock East Campus dorm. I had conversations with several fellow students like Daniel Kort, Aubrey Temple and Richard Phillips about the fractured social circles at Duke. And Ms. Guinn challenged me when I spoke of “self-segregation” at Duke as coming from a point of privilege.

The essence of the trip weren’t the visits to the birth or death places of Martin Luther King Jr., or the consumption of good soul food or the meaningful conversations I had with students and staff members. It was the combination of it all. This trip has undoubtedly given me new perspectives on civil rights, both fifty years ago and in the present moment.

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The Need to Pay Attention

Prospective Biology & Theater Studies Major

In the past few days, I've traveled to Charlotte, Atlanta, Montgomery, Selma, and Birmingham with the 2014 Roots to Rights trip. We've visited a number of Civil Rights monuments and important locations, namely the King Center and MLK's birthplace in Atlanta, the Civil Rights Memorial in the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, and the Voting Rights Museum in Selma. 

It's been a lot to do in a short span of time, but the experience has been nothing but eye-opening and sobering. Walking through museums memorializing those who were murdered, beaten, lynched, abused physically and mentally, I began to fully understand what was being faught for and the sacrifices that thousands of people made to stand up for human rights. For the first time, I've begun to realize that, before now, I've known about the Civil Rights movement, but I haven't understood everything that it represented. It was not just a movement lead by such great people as MLK, Medgar Evers, Coretta King, and Julian Bond, but rather a movement of thousands, from all walks of life, united in nonviolent confrontation against extreme hate and violence. This does not diminish the work of their leaders, but we shouldn't forget those who were killed and injured and who we don't learn about in textbooks, those who raised their voiced against injustice just as surely as MLK, and, perhaps even more importantly, those who were killed not because of protesting or standing up for themselves but because they happened to cross paths with people who hated them for the color of their skin. One of the most profound things that I've heard in the past few days is Mrs. Till's request to give her son, Emmett Till (who was beaten to death for allegedly whistling at a white woman), an open-casket funeral, because she had had enough of the world turning a blind eye to the brutality that African Americans faced on a daily basis. We need to acknowledge and notice that these things are happening, all over the world, and we need to be vocal about it. Not acting is just as bad as actively supporting violence and hate crimes.

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Standup and Stand out – commitment & comedy on campus

A friar, an imam and a rabbi walk into a lounge … This might sound like the start of a joke, but actually, it’s the start of an interfaith gathering on campus. The Duke Chapel Lounge is not a 70s-era bar with dim lighting, fruity drinks and mood music, but it is a place where connections are made and interfaith interaction happens on a regular basis. This semester, in particular, a motivated group of students has channeled their own sense of religious commitment and activism into a series of programs that transcend faith boundaries and highlight a common call for peace both in the world and in themselves. 

In September the Undergraduate Faith Council (UFC) designed a pilgrimage for peace connected to the International Day for Peace. Students gathered in front of Duke Chapel then moved around the West Campus quad offering prayers for peace in our broken world. This act of remembrance and solidarity was completely designed by UFC students and offered a moment to pause and reflect on the interconnectedness of life around the world.  When Muslims and Christians in Syria suffer, Muslims and Christians in Durham weep with them.  Students from different faith traditions offered up prayers and petitions for wholeness, justice and harmony on earth.

Later in the semester, UFC students organized an interreligious panel on faith and mental well being. Religious leaders and mental health professionals from different traditions challenged societal expectations of perfection and encouraged those present to look for communities built on trust, respect and vulnerability.  The call to cultivate inner peace paired well with the prayer for peace in the world shared earlier.

If all of this sounds a bit too serious, never fear! There’s also room for fun in Duke’s interfaith engagement. To celebrate the last day of classes this semester on Dec 6, the UFC will be hosting an interfaith standup comedy night in the Women’s Center Lounge. The community is invited to come and let off a little steam – and perhaps finally learn why, exactly, that friar, imam and rabbi walked into the lounge …

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