Jews find ways to connect to roots

By By Rosemary Campbell

By Rosemary Campbell

When Mike Aloni moved to Salt Lake City from his home in Fairfax, Va., he did not expect to find a large Jewish population like what he grew up in8212;and he was right in his expectations.

The Jewish population in Utah, especially at the U, is significantly smaller than in other places and institutions in the United States, said Harris Lenowitz, U professor of Hebrew. This greatly affects how Aloni, a senior in economics, defines himself in such a society.

“I basically see myself as even more Jewish,” Aloni said. “It forces me to go back to my roots and back to Judaism. I’ve become way more observant.” Aloni said he came to Utah for a change of pace and thinks the U is a good school. He said it was not a huge shock for him when he found a small number of Jews here. He has become involved in the U’s Jewish Student Association, which has been an active organization for the past four years, to help him feel at home at the U.

Now president of the JSA, Aloni said the group celebrates all the big holidays, such as Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, both in the month of September, and they try to have Shabbat dinners once a month.

Twice a year, about seven of the 60 student and alumni members of the JSA travel to represent the U at international gatherings of Jewish college students in New York and Los Angeles as a way to strengthen their core.

“There is a lot of growing to be done,” Aloni said. “We need a lot of people and we need to be active.”

Ashley Malnove, a third-year law student at the U and a member of the JSA, is one of few Jewish students in the law school. She grew up in Utah and graduated from high school at Waterford School in Sandy and said she is used to being in the minority. When Malnove left for Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., for her undergraduate, she said she found a considerably larger Jewish population than she knew in Utah.

“It was a big shock,” Malnove said. “I knew college would be different than high school, but it was really nice. They always had events that a lot of people (would) go to.”

After leaving Washington University, which has a student population that Malnove said is almost 50 percent Jewish, she came to the U’s law school, which is even less diverse than the undergraduate population. The law school generally has only one or two Jewish students in each year of the school’s three-year curriculum.

Malnove said her religion has never been an issue, and any outward signs of antagonism have been isolated instances. Still, she says, people should make sure they think about what it’s like to be in the minority before joking about it so those incidents stop.

As for the Jewish community itself, Malnove said she believes it is strong, but could be more unified. Jews have diverse views and in Judaism, people are free to disagree with one another, creating some division, she said.

The JSA is doing its part to strengthen the community, hoping to give Jewish students a chance to be involved, she said.

Aloni said he has encountered situations where fellow students have tried to convert him away from Judaism, adding that the effort it takes to be self-defined and true to his roots is difficult when there aren’t many Jews around for support.

However, Aloni and Malnove said they appreciate how accepting teachers and students in his classes are of his beliefs.

“I (think) that all students have been diplomatic and I don’t feel tension,” Aloni said. “Everyone is very good about Judaism.”
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Photo courtesy Jewish Student Association

Jewish students from around world gather in New York for a meeting. The U?s Jewish Student Association sends about seven students to New York and Los Angeles twice a year to attend the meetings.