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Religious Life: Growth and Community

An Interview with Sarah Woodbury '10

Sarah Woodbury

Sarah Woodbury was a speaker in the 2009 Family Weekend Interfaith Service. Read her comments here (PDF).

How long have you been involved with the chapel and what is your affiliation?

I am one of the co-chairs of Smith Hillel. I have been involved with the Chapel since my sophomore year, when I came to Smith as a transfer student.

What made you get involved with chapel-sponsored activities/organizations?

When I made the decision to transfer, I knew that I was looking for a school with a strong sense of community. Part of the reason that I chose to come to Smith was that I was impressed with the vibrancy of spiritual life on campus, and with the vitality of the Jewish community in particular. I have been involved with Hillel, but also with more general chapel programs on campus, such as the Hot Seat and Spiritual-i-TEA, and have participated in events hosted by other religious organizations.

What experience(s) have you had as a result of your relationship with the chapel that has impacted your life?

While at Smith, I have been actively pursuing conversion to Judaism, a path begun before my arrival here. A big part of that process is learning, and I have found the Smith Jewish community, the chapel and the community in the Pioneer Valley to be tremendous resources for both intellectual and experiential Jewish learning. Some examples include studying Mishnah, learning how to make a kitchen kosher for Passover by doing it ourselves, and attending a beautiful and meaningful Seder at the home of a local couple very active in the Jewish community. This has impacted by life considerably, helping me to build a strong foundation for my evolving Jewish education and identity throughout my life.

What were you expecting from your interactions with the chapel? Was it different from what you expected? If so, how?

One thing that surprised me about the chapel was the extent of student leadership and collaboration. I was surprised and impressed to find the majority of events are planned, organized and led by students, with the support and guidance of chapel staff. As a leader of a religious organization, I've benefited a lot from this. While I expected to practice and learn about my tradition, I did not expect the chapel to be somewhere that I gained experience as a leader, or learned about the possibilities and challenges of leadership within my religious community.

What have you learned about your own spirituality?

Spiritually, one thing that I have learned is the importance of awareness and reflection in daily life. This can take many forms—making a blessing over meals, taking time for a quiet walk, daily prayer or writing in a journal, for example. Making time for intentional reflection and awareness helps me to navigate challenges, act positively in the world and enjoy and find meaning in my everyday life.

Have you made any connections (physical, mental, spiritual) that you think you may not have otherwise made?

Absolutely. The word religion itself probably derives from the Latin phrase re ligare, to bind again. I think of the time that I spend participating in religious life as a time of connection to the community and the Divine, but also as a time of personal connection and synthesis. Within the framework of ritual, or open-ended spiritual discussion, or around a communal Shabbat table, I am able to bring together the strands of my life—personal, academic, social—and connect them in a meaningful way to my spiritual identity and religious tradition.

Do you have any funny, strange or unbelievable incidents you want to share?

Last year, I was in charge of making about 200 matzo balls for the soup for our Passover Seder. Problem was, we were making them a day in advance, and the broth wouldn't be ready until tomorrow. No big deal, I thought, we'll just store them in the fridge in a pot of water. We mixed, rolled and boiled, singing along to 90s pop music the whole time, popped them in the fridge and went home to bed. The next morning, when I came in to retrieve the matzo balls, I found two giant pot'shaped ice cubes filled with suspended matzo balls—the fridge had been set too cold. Fortunately, Hillel has survived many food challenges before, from making gluten-free vegan latkes to flooding the kitchen with hummus, so I was prepared. I knocked out the ice and started chipping away. The Kosher Kitchen phone rang, and a fellow board member was on the other end. "How's it going?" she asked. "Could be better," I said, "I'm just chipping the matzo balls out of a giant ice brick." "Oh," she replied, hardly fazed. "Need some help?"

What two words would you use to describe your experience with Religious Life?

Growth and community.