Posted on March 12th, 2012 by Rachel
By Neal Marshall, JMM Development Intern
Hi, my name is Neal Marshall and I am a sophomore at Johns Hopkins University majoring in International Studies. I grew up on Long Island and went to a public high school, which was, unsurprisingly, predominantly Jewish. At school, about sixty to sixty-five percent of the students were Jewish. I thought that it was completely normal that everyone around me was Jewish, granted there were no orthodox students, just conservative and reform students. If they were orthodox, they went to private yeshivas or Hebrew day schools. I belonged/still belong to a conservative synagogue with about three hundred families in it. It is smaller than the other conservative and reform synagogues in the neighborhood but probably the most active. My parents like to say it is very Hamisha. The Rabbi and the Cantor are extremely warm and are a great source of structure and guidance. I believed while I was still in high school that I was a very active Jew. I had been in my synagogues’ Junior Choir for nine years, tutored fifth and sixth graders in how to read Hebrew, and continued my Jewish education by going to weekly classes with my friends to have a discussion with the Rabbi. I have emailed the Rabbi to just ask him questions even while I’m in Baltimore and he is always supportive and thoughtful in his responses. The Cantor is like a grandfather to me because I was in his choir from a young age. I did a much larger amount of the service for my bar mitzvah in comparison to most other kids my age and he was always poking fun at me. I had a very strong, in my opinion, cultural Jewish upbringing.
Neal Marshall and friends at Mega Event in Jerusalem while on Birthright.
When I came to Hopkins, it was a culture shock. Instead of all the students being Jewish, only ten percent of the student body is Jewish. Granted it is a very active five to six hundred students, but not everyone being Jewish was definitely a shock to the system. The executive director of the Hillel, Rabbi Debbie Pine, was one of the most warm, exciting people who welcomed me into the Hopkins community, not just the Jewish community at Hopkins. It did take some time for me to get adjusted to college life, but also the differences in the community. At Hillel, it was different than I had expected because there were students of all denominations, reform, conservative, orthodox, re-constructionist, and anything in between. I had actually felt uncomfortable and new at the Hillel for the first semester and rarely went there. It wasn’t until a friend brought me to the conservative services that I decided to go back more often. This year however, I have become much more active. I want to be that person or friend who brings other students into Hillel and shows them the way I see it today. In order to achieve this goal of mine, I decided last semester to come up with a way to bring in more students into Hillel sponsored events. I worked with another student and Rabbi Pine to create a Shabbat dinner for uninvolved students. We reached out to our friends who we knew were Jewish but didn’t go to Hillel. We ended up having about twenty-five to thirty students come to one of the common kitchens in the dormitories and sit together to have a Shabbat dinner. It was extremely successful and I having been trying to work on other events.
Not only did I want to become more involved in Hillel at Hopkins, but I also wanted to be involved in the greater community in Baltimore. Early in January, a group of high school students from one of the local synagogues came to the Hillel to discuss Jewish life on our campus and the college process. I thought that it was a great idea to bring Jewish High Schools to talk with Jewish College students and how they approach their Judaism in college and college life. It gave me the idea to look for a way to become involved and search out Jewish organizations in Baltimore. When I was looking for an internship/job I came upon the Jewish Museum of Maryland and thought how great of an idea it would be to work in a non-profit organization as well as get experience in the business side of operations. I applied for the internship, and later that week I had an interview with Development Coordinator, Amy Smith. Two weeks later, I started working at the museum. So far, it has been an amazing experience getting to know many of the people who work here and learning a variety of skills working behind the scenes. On the first day I got a tour of the museum and tagged along with an elderly couple, the wife from Brooklyn and the husband from Great Britain. It was interesting to listen to them tell stories about their trips and compare the Jewish Museum of Maryland to other religious and historical sites. The next week I worked with Esther on inventory for the gift shop at the museum. She is such a sweet lady and fun to work with. I have also begun working with our donor databases, transferring information from the old one to the new one, which I find quite fun and informational. I look forward to continuing my work here at the Jewish Museum.