On Thursday, November 17th, Minnesota Hillel, the Alpha Epsilon Pi Fraternity, and the Center for Jewish Studies had the pleasure of hosting Professor Rivka Neriya ben Shahar from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. She came to the University of Minnesota and gave a wonderful presentation about the perspectives of Amish life and Haredi Jewish life, and the similarities and differences between the two were quite surprising. Professor ben Shahar grew up in Israel and did research within the Jewish community for her university, but when she became interested in the Amish community in the United States, she realized that she would need to get a closer look into their lifestyle before she could really begin.

Noah Mikell, who planned this event as part of his Fellowship of the Israel Education Center and his partnership with Hillel, said that the story of her background and her intriguing journey that led her to discover the Amish community was fascinating, “I really enjoyed learning about the two cultural groups, as well as the opportunity to ask her questions (and eat sushi, of course). The event was a lot of fun; it was very educational, and we are so grateful that Professor ben Shahar took the time to come share her knowledge with us.”

Jillian Nowry, an intern at Minnesota Hillel, enjoyed her time in the lecture gaining new insights from Dr. Rivka Neriya ben Shahar as well, “It amazed me that before starting her research, she was skeptical to believe that the Amish and the ultra-orthodox could be anything alike. Dr. ben Shahar told us about her research in the form of a story; she grazed over every aspect of the job, and it was not graceful at all. At one point, she told us about her running up to an Amish woman, asking to get to know her. The class was consumed in the lecture, interested in her stories about coming to Massachusetts to find Amish people only to realize that they were in Pennsylvania. It was interesting to hear about her experiences as an ultra-orthodox woman on a quest to find Amish people and learn about their way of life.”

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When it was time for the question and answer portion of the lecture, Dr. Rivka Neriya ben Shahar had plenty of questions to answer. One of her responses to the question, how has her career as a doctor been accepted in her ultra-orthodox community, left the class in a state of shock. Jillian recalled her emotions during this portion of the lecture, “It saddened me to hear that her family was not accepting of her lifestyle choices. What family wouldn’t be happy about their child earning her Ph.D.? However, my spirits were raised after she spoke with such pride about her accomplishments. I learned how different the ultra-orthodox lifestyle and values were from my own.” Dr. ben Shahar had a special type of presence in the classroom; it was hard to describe. She spoke in such a way that we felt all different types of emotion. The class stayed consumed in her lecture the entire time. The students at the University of Minnesota would love to hear Dr. ben Shahar speak again sometime on campus.

Idan Cohen, the Jewish Agency Israel Fellow for Minnesota Hillel, had his own experience with Dr. ben Shahar as a student in her classroom at Sapir College in Israel. Idan was the one behind the event due to his previous ties to Dr. ben Shahar. After sitting in on the lecture given by his former professor, Idan shared his thoughts on her lesson, “I am glad the students at the University of Minnesota Had the opportunity to experience a little bit of my time in college as we hosted my professor, Dr. Rivka Neriya ben Shahar, on campus. Dr. Rivka Neriya ben Shahar is an amazing and well-known professor, who specialized in the fields of religion, gender, media and the connection between all three. As a former student at Sapir college, in Sderot, Israel, I had the opportunity to take multiple classes with her and learn from her personal story as a member of the Haredi, ultra-orthodox community in Israel, as a feminist woman, and as someone who has done fascinating work and research on the Amish community.”

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