Jewish Life at Duke: Ben Thier on Jewish Identity and Connection


At Jewish Life at Duke, one of our guiding principles is to meet students where they are and provide them a space to explore their Jewish identity. For some, Jewish Life at Duke is the place where they returned to, strengthened, or even discovered their connection to Judaism. Ben Thier '20 shares his (touching and funny!) story of finding that connection below:


photo of Ben Thier, T'20
Class of 2020 Seniors pose at the top of Duke Chapel during a senior class outing with the Jewish Student Union. L to R: Josh Young, Jamie Harris, Taylor Fistel, Ben Thier, Lucy Greenwald, Olivia Lee.

I have thought a lot about why I was not particularly involved until my Junior Spring. At the beginning, there was a lot of comparing my Judaism to others, a fear of being judged, and also a strange feeling of seeing that for the first time I was the only Jewish person in my closest friend groups. But after Rabbi Elana broke down my hardened exterior with a Vondy latte, I owed it to her to give being involved in this community a shot, and I am forever grateful that I did.

At the end, coming to services felt more regular and secure than anything else I did on campus, and I am now very proud to share my experiences with my non-Jewish friends by bringing them to Shabbat or hosting their first Seder.

Being Jewish and experiencing Judaism in college is a strange thing. It sometimes means tearing through a book about modern day anti-semitism after attending a training, and sometimes it means playing Mafia or Boggle or telling Rabbi to go back and watch the Westworld post-credits scenes. Only by living in a fraternity house would I be able to honor my grandfather’s memory with a yahrzeit candle surrounded by leftover solo cups from the night before (oy). The lessons I have learned, friends I have gained, and new appreciation for Judaism in whatever form in takes will serve me well as I move on to the next stage. Next year, I will be attending Stanford Grad School of Education to get my Master’s in Learning, Design, and Technology. I am crossing my fingers that I am able to start in person, but either way I know it will be a great experience.

Thank you for providing me - and countless other students - a space of comfort.

A space to connect with new friends, reflect, mourn, celebrate, and of course, eat. The sheer amount of generosity and selflessness that I experienced at Jewish Life at Duke hopefully will make me able to provide that more for others in the future. Thank you all for being so considerate and compassionate - not only of my food allergies, but of the varied and winding experience I had with Judaism over these four years as I grappled with what it meant and means to me.

I look forward to knowing I will always have a home on campus whenever I return next and always.

-Ben Thier, T'20


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In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the JLD team rapidly transitioned to meeting with students virtually and building community in innovative ways. Our 780+ Jewish students need your support more than ever before as we prepare to welcome them back in the fall.

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