Boston College Hillel
We get many questions about the nature of Jewish life at a Catholic Jesuit school. Here are the answers to our most frequently asked questions:
Q: What is the size of the Jewish population at Boston College?
A: It is difficult for any school to know the exact number of Jewish students. We estimate that 2% out of approximately 9,000 undergraduates are Jewish, which is about 180 students.
We don't have statistics of the Jewish population at the graduate level. However, the Boston College Law School has a significantly higher proportion of Jewish students and a very active Jewish Law Student Association.
Q: Will I be comfortable being Jewish at a Jesuit school?
A: Jewish students are absolutely comfortable here! Boston College is extremely supportive of spirituality and religion, more so than most secular schools. This can actually make it easier to be Jewish at college!
Clearly, being a minority at BC brings special challenges to Jewish students, including heightening their ethnic identity. But because BC is located between two very vibrant Jewish communities (Brookline & Newton), there are many resources for students who wish to be guided to these networks. The newly introduced Minor in Jewish Studies also offers additional courses for interested students, Jew and non-Jew alike.
The religious affiliation of Boston College impacts student life by emphasizing the school's "Jesuit Catholic tradition", based on the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola: scholarship (free & open; not subject to mandates from authority, whether Church or State) and community service. The latter is "Tikun Olam" in our own tradition.
Jewish students here are certainly challenged: first, by non-Jewish friends who may want to learn more about Judaism and second, by the Hillel advisors' desire to get students to play an active role in Hillel.
Clearly, it is easy to be Jewish at neighboring colleges and universities in the Boston area, where there are large numbers of ethnic Jews, from the very observant to the gastronomic varieties and beyond. A Jewish student would easily find his or her niche at any of those excellent institutions.
Q: What resources and programs does Hillel offer?
A: Hillel offers social, cultural and religious programming as well as a family-feel within a larger school. Our events include:
Student-cooked Friday night Shabbat dinners
Holiday services and celebrations
Family weekend bagel brunches
Regional and national events and conferences
Q: What other resources exist for Jewish students at and around BC?
A: We are fortunate to be surrounded by thriving Jewish communities in the local towns, which offer a tremendous amount of opportunities for involvement. From kosher restaurants, to teaching and worship opportunities at local synagogues, to Yiddish classes at Workmen's Circle, to Jewish faculty who welcome students home for holidays, the opportunities are endless.
For example, Temple Beth Zion in Brookline is easily accessible through public transport, and sizeable groups from Hillel have attended their Shabbat services in the past. Part of our mission at the BC Hillel is to provide access to these opportunities for all who desire it.
Q: Is there a kosher dining option at BC?
A: While the dining hall is not kosher, it is not difficult to eat kosher-style. BC Dining is also willing to provide frozen kosher meals to students who request them, and Hillel prepares a kosher dinner every Friday night. Furthermore, roughly half of all dorms (primarily upperclassmen's) have full kitchens.
Q: I come from a very Jewish hometown. Will I feel like a minority at BC?
A: Approximately 2% of the undergraduate student body is Jewish, so being a student at BC is a unique experience. Many Jewish students appreciate the emphasis of the Jesuit ideals of scholarship and service similar to Tikkun Olam in our own tradition. Hillel also offers many programs to connect Jewish students on campus and offer a piece of home on the Heights.
Q: I am Jewish but not religious. Will I fit in anywhere at BC?
A: Yes, most definitely! Boston College was founded on religious values, but it is also a university focused on scholarship where the majority of campus activities are secular, such as sports, community service and arts.
Q: I am very religious. Will I be able to meet my Jewish needs at BC?
A: That depends on your needs and your readiness to seek out resources. While the dining hall is not kosher, it is not difficult to eat kosher-style. BC Dining is also willing to provide frozen kosher meals to students who request them, and Hillel prepares a kosher dinner every Friday night.
A plethora of local synagogues have good relationships with BC students. Faculty and community members often welcome students into their homes for holidays as well. Hillel began offering on-campus services for High Holidays and Passover seder several years ago, and we hope to continue that tradition.
Those who are shomer shabbos may run into problems regarding the use of electronic card readers to access residence halls and key codes to enter rooms. (Boston College is very safety-conscious!)
Q: Are there really crucifixes all over the place?
A: There is religious art in most classrooms.
Q: Is there pressure to convert to Catholicism while at BC?
A: Absolutely not!
Q: Does BC allow students to miss class for the High Holy Days?
A: Massachusetts state law requires that the university excuse any student who is unable to attend classes or participate in any examination, study, or work requirement because of religious observance, and allow students the right to make up the work without any adverse or prejudicial effects.
The law also provides that such makeup work may not create an unreasonable burden upon the university. This means that students must inform professors in advance of the days on which they will be absent for religious reasons. It is not a bad idea to let professors know in writing and as early in the semester as possible.
New students often find this task intimidating. If you would like advice in how to approach your professors, Hillel board members and faculty advisors are always happy to help.