Yesterday afternoon, Harvard Hillel had some unusual visitors—guests from South Korea, and a TV camera.
Three employees of the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), South Korea’s leading television station, rolled tape yesterday while students at Hillel talked about their experiences as Americans, as college students, and as Jews.
Footage of the round-table discussion will be featured in an upcoming KBS documentary about Jewish life in America.
“It’s an extraordinary opportunity to educate quite a lot of people in Korea about Judaism in our own words from our perspective,” said Harvard Hillel Associate Director Michael Simon in an interview before the filming.
During the discussion, students sought to explain the role of Judaism in their lives. Some students spoke about Judaism’s spiritual aspects, while others stressed the cultural facet of their tradition.
“It’s the foods I eat, the language I read, the words I use at home,” said Reyzl R. Geselowitz ’10.
As they tried to define their religion for viewers in Korea, the students at Hillel debated their own ideas of Judaism.
“Does being Jewish mean keeping kosher? Does being Jewish mean celebrating Shabbat? Does being Jewish mean feeling proud when I see someone Jewish on TV?” one student queried.
For many, the answer was social activism. “To me, it’s all about social justice. It’s about making the world a better place when I leave it than it was when I found it,” said Neil D. Spears, a student in the Graduate School of Education.
Lilli R. Margolin ’11, who was adopted from Korea and raised by a Jewish family, said that when she met her birth family, “I don’t think they really comprehended the fact that I’m Jewish. I don’t think it really registered with them that I don’t believe in Jesus.”
Korea has a negligible number of Jews, too few to be listed by the CIA World Factbook. In America, Jews make up 1.7 percent of the population according to the CIA, while at Harvard, according to the international Hillel website, about 25 percent of the student body is Jewish.
Despite this difference, the filmmakers said that they believe that Jewish students’ experiences will be relevant to Korean audiences.
“The Jews are a small minority who have successfully struggled to become a major influence in America,” producers Hyunmo Jung and Sun You said yesterday at Hillel.
“We’re trying to understand where you’re from, your struggle, your history,” You told the gathered students. “We’re similar culturally, and maybe Koreans can be inspired by your stories.”