Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gateways to Judaism: Arielle Evans

Last spring I received an email from a Hillel member seeking volunteers for Gateways, a program that brings together Tufts students and adults with special needs for Shabbat. I was beyond excited. For fifteen years I attended a Jewish Day School that stressed the importance of gemilut chasadim (acts of loving-kindness) and growing up I spent much time volunteering with children with special needs in music therapy and in a camp setting; additionally, during my gap year in Israel I spent every Tuesday working at a recreation center for adults with Down Syndrome. These hours of volunteering were always the most fulfilling part of my week. Yet at Tufts, I’d found myself slipping into my one-track mind academic mode and, despite the Tufts commitment to “active citizenship”, spent less time volunteering than I had hoped. I figured Gateways would be the perfect remedy and jumped at the chance to be involved. I was right; Gateways immediately reignited my passion for working with others and reminded me that there is more to life than Club Tisch.

Gateways Shabbat happen every few weeks. We always start the evening with an interactive discussion about some aspect of Judaism, whether it be the next-approaching holiday or our favorite Shabbat meals. We then head over to Hillel, where we sing together in services and eat dinner. I am lucky enough to spend these nights with Ilyse, an eighteen year old woman with Down Syndrome. She defines spunk, is always color coordinated (even down to her glasses!), and is one of the very few people who shares my love for Justin Bieber. Yet Ilyse and I have developed a bond that runs deeper than just talking about musicians or her color choice of the week. We have gained an understanding of one another and work off each other’s emotions. Her laughter makes me laugh; her smile makes me happy; her success makes me proud. She has become so much more than a just a buddy; she is truly a friend.

Shimon HaTzadik used to say: “Upon three things the world stands: on Torah, on worship, and on acts of loving-kindness” (Pirkei Avot 1:2). Gateways is a program that brings together these three tenets of Judaism in a unique way, and the fact that this is one of Ilyse’s favorite songs during services makes this quote all the more fitting. We spend time learning about Judaism, actively engaging ourselves in Shabbat worship, and working together in the spirit of gemilut chasadim. My Shabbat experience has been made all the more meaningful through Gateways and I constantly find myself looking forward to the next one!

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