Formally known as the Maryland Jewish Experience, Meor Maryland is part of Meor National, an emerging educational movement that has spread to more than 20 campuses nationwide.
Complete with formal and informal educational tracks, seminars, classroom-style learning, trips to Israel and other countries and Shabbat meals and programming, Meor Maryland seeks to serve as an outlet for sophisticated Jewish learning for Jews of all affiliations on the University of Maryland campus.
“We’re trying to impart a sense of deeper wisdom and sophisticated messages of Torah Judaism — that’s a real component of our mission,” said Rabbi Ari Koretzky, executive director of the organization that has been at the university for 10 years. “The other aspect is that we’re targeting the broadest spectrum of Jewish students on campus so that anyone can feel comfortable walking through the door and so that we can serve as a gateway for their entry into the Jewish world.”
As one of the founding campuses in the larger Meor movement, Meor Maryland has seen a rapid expansion in recent years and serves nearly 200 students on a regular basis, which led it to outgrow its single-family home on Princeton Avenue and move to a much larger fraternity-style house to better serve its students and staff.
“We just thank God we outgrew our previous space. I think it shows we’re growing in our name and recognition both locally and nationally, which is great,” said Rabbi Koretzky.
Monday’s grand-opening celebration included a formal dedication ceremony for the new building, keynoted by Rabbi Ari Israel, executive director of University of Maryland Hillel. Rabbi Eli Backman, director of University of Maryland Chabad, posted the mezuzah.
“It was important to us to involve all the different organizational players on campus,” said Rabbi Koretzky, who added that the university’s mascot, Testudo, and the mayor of College Park were also in attendance at the celebration. “We [Meor Maryland, Hillel and Chabad] all have distinct agendas and missions, but we really try to foster a campus culture of mutual respect and appreciation. We wanted to demonstrate that in a formal and public way with the ceremony.”
Rabbi Koretzky noted that Meor Maryland’s strong focus on Jewish educational programming and personal relationships with students makes it unique.
“Students know that they’re coming to us to learn about Judaism, to be able to tackle difficult questions and to learn in a sophisticated and deep way. We help them see Judaism as relevant to their lives in a way they never imagined and form very personal connections with every person that comes through the door. That’s our lifeblood — those relationships.”
That real-life application of Judaism is what attracted junior Alexa Sokol, 20, to Meor Maryland her freshman year. The communications major, who just came back from a six-week trip to Israel with Meor, described the program as being very hands-on and very welcoming.
“Meor really showed me how, as a young Jewish leader, I could apply Judaism to my everyday life,” Sokol said. “It’s been a really positive experience and has really enabled me to stay grounded and have more purpose and direction in my Judaism.”
With a new school year just under way, Rabbi Koretzky is looking forward to the growth of the organization and to potentially reaching more Jewish students.
“We definitely want to continue growing and plan on doing so in a way that doesn’t compromise the integrity of our programs,” he said. “We want to continue to have personal connections with our students and have the students feel that there’s an address on campus that’s really home for them and a place where they can feel comfortable being themselves [while] pushing themselves to be something more.”
Emily Minton writes for JT’s sister publication, Washington Jewish Week.