First, the taste of a crisp apple dipped in honey.
Then, a prayer of renewal to a “sweet” new year.
Last Friday at sundown, more than 30 students from local universities gathered at Hillel Milwaukee, 3053 N. Stowell Ave., to celebrate Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
Together, students shared in the Shabbat dinner, recognizing the weekly day of rest that lasted until Saturday at dusk.
The night also marked the start of the High Holy Days, which end Sept. 28 with Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.
Reuven Fridmar, a senior in the College of Business Administration and president of the Jewish Student Union, said Yom Kippur is a chance to start over.
When he lived in Israel during his childhood, Fridmar said he vividly remembers the times he went to the sea and emptied all his pockets to symbolize the release of all the bad things he did in the previous year.
“God gives me a chance every year to improve, so I try to improve every year,” Fridmar said.
For Lydia Roussos, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences and vice president of the Jewish Student Union, Yom Kippur is a time for spiritual renewal by repenting for sins and asking forgiveness from God and others.
Roussos said the High Holy Days are a great way to begin the school year.
“You don’t see your friends all summer if you go home, and it’s nice to make amends early so you have the whole school year to shape your relationship,” Roussos said.
Although there aren’t many Jewish students at Marquette, College of Health Sciences sophomore Jeff Quinn said his Jewish faith has been strengthened by his Christian theology courses.
He said the classes presented a new perspective on his faith and made him compare Christian doctrine with the doctrine he had been taught.
“It kind of forces you to try and materialize what you do believe in … to break it down to what you believe in rather than what you’ve been told to believe in,” Quinn said.
Living and studying in a predominantly Catholic community, Roussos said she doesn’t want to be ignorant of Christianity.
Instead, she said she hopes her education will help her connect with the wider Marquette community.
“Since I live in a Christian world, I should really be acquainted with what Christians believe and be able to have an inter-religious dialogue,” Roussos said.
Off-campus, Jewish students can connect with each other through Hillel Milwaukee, an organization for university students and young adults in the Milwaukee metro area.
Heidi Rattner, executive director of Hillel Milwaukee, said the organization provides council and peer mentoring and offers opportunities to engage in social action projects, weekly dinners, speakers and social gatherings.
Although Hillel is typically a single-campus organization in other cities, Rattner said Hillel Milwaukee is rare because it serves students from more than 10 area colleges.
“It is just as much Marquette’s Hillel as it is UWM’s Hillel as it is Cardinal Stritch’s Hillel,” Rattner said.
Roussos, who was raised in a secular atmosphere, said she didn’t have a strong Jewish identity when she entered college. However, she said her time with the Hillel community has motivated and shaped her as a young Jewish woman.
“They have spurred me to explore my faith deeper,” Roussos said. “Now I have a very strong sense of Jewish identity.”
Fridmar, whose family lives more than four hours away from Milwaukee, said he finds it difficult to go home for holidays, but knows he can always go to Hillel to find a welcoming community.
“They welcome everyone,” Fridmar said. “It’s a home aside from my home.”