Campus religious organizations experience participation increase

Haley Keding

Kent State’s enrollment is at an all-time high and, with more than 4,000 freshmen on campus, religious organizations are experiencing a participation increase.

Religious events filled the first week of school and Hillel saw 70 students attend Shalom Kent State, which aimed to include freshmen during welcome weekend and was a way for students to celebrate Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.

“We are a home away from home for students,” said Adam Hirsh, the assistant director at Hillel.

At Blastoff, H2O Church had students fill out an interest card for a free pizza and found that more than 900 students expressed interest in the organization.  

The University Parish Newman Center also saw 150 students attend its “Welcome Back BBQ.”

Mary Delfino, pastoral associate for campus ministry, said she is excited to welcome the freshmen class to the Newman Center.

Even though welcome week is over, each organization has events planned throughout the semester.

Hillel opened registration Sept. 9 for a December trip to Israel through a program known as “Taglit-Birthright Israel.”

Birthright facilitates a 10-day educational trip to Israel for Jewish students between the ages of 18 and 26.

Hillel at Kent State participates in the program once each summer and winter.   

Sophomore Jacob Derwin went to Israel with Birthright this past May, along with 17 other students from Kent State.

“We all have the right to go to Israel and this program allows us to go for free,” Derwin said.

The program’s gift covers round-trip airfare, hotel accommodations, transportation and some admission fees.  

Hirsh encourages freshmen to attend Birthright because it is the first time they can participate as adults.  

“It’s a phenomenal experience,” Hirsh said.

In the meantime, Hillel has other upcoming activities for Jewish students.

“Right now, we’re gearing up for our High Holiday services,” Hirsh said.

The High Holidays include Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year; Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of repentance; and Sukkot, a Jewish feast.  

Last year, the High Holidays took place the first few weeks of classes and about 100 students attended at least one of the services. More students attended Rosh Hashanah because it fell on a weekday.

“Attendance always decreases slightly when the Holidays fall on a weekend. Students who have the ability often choose to travel home to celebrate with their families,” Hirsh said.

This year, the High Holidays fall later in the school year, so Hirsh said he expects to see 150 students in attendance now that they are settled in on campus.

H2O Church is also preparing for future events such as Fall Getaway.

Fall Getaway is a weekend retreat where students have the chance to travel off campus and spend time with God.

Students will leave campus Sept. 19 and return Sept. 20 as they go to a retreat center about an hour north of Columbus.    

The Newman Center will also hold a weekend retreat known as Freshman Retreat on Sept. 20.

“I get a lot of good vibes from this year,” Delfino said.

Freshmen make decisions about their college experience the first few weeks of classes and Delfino said she believes it’s important to reach out to them early.  

“Spirituality is just as important as academics,” Delfino said.

The retreat began three years ago and is growing in popularity.  

The first year, three or four students attended the retreat then the number nearly tripled last year with 10 or 11 students in attendance.

Now in its third year, Delfino hopes to see at least 20 students attend.

“Retreats are priceless experiences,” Delfino said.

Contact Haley Keding at [email protected].