Shaun Ho is a sophomore majoring in Regional and Comparative Studies.
Before coming to Georgetown, I never imagined I would be involved in any aspect of Jewish life in college. Yet today, the Jewish community is the most important part of my life at Georgetown. Most of my friends at Georgetown are Jewish. I am involved in many Jewish groups and organizations on campus. I cannot imagine what my life at Georgetown would be like without doing anything Jewish.
But here’s the thing: I wasn’t born or raised Jewish. My family is nonreligious and I have no Jewish roots. I even went to a Baptist elementary school. So, you might be wondering: how did I end up in the Georgetown Jewish community?
I became interested in Judaism when I first went to Israel during the summer before my senior year of high school. Visiting the Western Wall, the Old City, Masada, the Dead Sea, and numerous other places in Israel made me interested in the history, culture, and religion of the Jewish civilization. Visiting these millennia-old sites made me fascinated by the long history of the Jewish people and civilization. Furthermore, I was interested in how resilient the Jewish civilization is. As a mostly minority or diaspora group for the last two millennia until 1948, the Jews have faced numerous persecutions and existential threats as a result of rabid anti-Semitism. Yet, they have remained a thriving civilization today and established a modern state of their own. In addition, numerous aspects of the Jewish religion also captivated me, such as stories and teachings in the Torah and the Talmud. All of these reasons made me decide to study Judaism when I came to Georgetown.
So as a freshman, I began attending Shabbat services. I’m not going to lie, part of the reason I went to Shabbat was for the free dinner, and I didn’t think I would keep going to Shabbat. But after a while, I started going regularly for the spiritual fulfillment and the community. For most of my life I had rarely been interested in religion, but there’s something about singing hymns and saying prayers in Hebrew that helps me let out my stress at the end of the week and fulfill my spiritual needs. Furthermore, I made so many new friends in Shabbat, which motivated me to go to Shabbat even more. What better way to spend your Friday evenings than to hang out with your closest friends and enjoy a free Kosher dinner?
Apart from the religious aspect of Judaism, I am also part of many Jewish groups on campus, including JSA (Jewish Student Association), GIA (Georgetown Israel Alliance), and J Street U. Being able to work with these groups is definitely one of the most important aspects of my life here at Georgetown, because it makes me feel like I can contribute back to the Jewish community and to various political causes. Academically, I am currently getting a certificate in the Center for Jewish Civilization (CJC), through which I take courses related to Jewish culture, history, and political thought. I’ve also started learning Hebrew and Yiddish!
Most important, however, is the welcoming nature of the Jewish community. Rabbi Rachel, the JSA, Ronit, my GUish intern Janine Karo, and the rest of the community have all made sure that I feel at home in the “GUish” community. In fact, it is precisely because the Georgetown Jewish community is so small and tight-knit (as compared to Jewish communities in other top colleges) that I feel like I really belong to it. I know most of the people in the Jewish community, and (hopefully) many of them know me. I have happily found a home in the Jewish community at Georgetown, and I am very grateful for it!