Beyond BBYO: Finding Their Place Through Song

May 19, 2022
Jess Daninhirsch

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States

Class of 2022

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For many members of our class of 2022, college may seem daunting right now. Either you’ve decided where you’re going, still waiting to hear back, or figuring out other plans. When applying to colleges, for many BBYO members, the population of Jewish students on campus is an important factor, as well as available opportunities to keep up with their Jewish identities.

This was the case for many members of ShireiNU, Northwestern University’s premier Jewish acapella group. Northwestern offers twelve acapella groups, and many of them have various cultural ties. ShireiNU–which found its roots around fifteen years ago–is sponsored by Northwestern Hillel, but over time it has morphed to include non-Jewish students as well. In fact, only a third of the current members are Jewish, but they still often sing Jewish songs and perform at synagogues and Jewish functions. Newcomers of all different backgrounds come in wanting to sing, but knowing that they will likely learn about Jewish values such as the importance of community. It is a chance for people to explore a community outside their own, or if they are Jewish, strengthen their ties to their own religion.

For Alexa Goldstein, NU class of ‘24 and alum of NRE: DC Council, ShireiNU is just one of many ways she continues to express her Jewish identity in college. “I have kept in touch with my Jewish identity by going to Hillel,” Goldstein said. “I went to ‘Shmooze’ [a Hillel mixer] where I met Natalie Daninhirsch [a KMR alum], who told me to audition for ShireiNU Acapella, and when I joined ShireiNU, I met lots of my besties!”

Goldstein met two of her closest friends over Zoom through a Hillel program for first-year students, and she will be living with them next year. “I’ve also gone to Hillel for meals sometimes, and it’s just a nice place to have as a kind of a support system. And ShireiNU has been a really wonderful support system for me as well,” Goldstein continued.

In March, ShireiNU went on tour in Pittsburgh. They sang at Temple Ohav Shalom for a Shabbat evening event that coincided with the synagogue’s 50th anniversary and the 100th anniversary of the first American Bat Mitzvah–all during International Women’s Month. Female members of the congregation shared stories of their bat mitzvot and overcoming obstacles to have one. After the service, ShireiNU sang Od Yavo, Hinei Mah Tov, Oseh Shalom, and a selection of pop songs that were either written by female artists or arranged by female-identifying members of the group.

Natalie Daninhirsch, class of ‘23 and alum of Keystone Mountain Region, says that ShireiNU is continually working to define what it means to be a Jewish acapella group and how to have conversations surrounding that notion. But she also enjoys ShireiNU as a way to stay in touch with her Jewish identity.

“A lot of it comes through seeking out my own experiences, and I’m lucky to be at a university that offers a lot of outlets to explore various identities,” Daninhirsch said. “I think Hillel was a great starting point, and from there I've branched out to the JTE [Jewish Theatre Ensemble] production board, passion projects, Jewish arts engagement cohorts, and more. It’s even just as simple as going to Shabbat every so often. It’s always a meaningful experience, even if I don’t go very frequently. Finding communities that are specifically Jewish, but still connected to my interests is important to me in college.”

For Jonathan Ruiz, class of ‘22, it was critical to strengthen his Jewish identity both outside and inside the classroom. “It was definitely important to me that I continue to surround myself with a Jewish community on campus, so I auditioned for ShireiNU and I joined a Jewish fraternity,” Ruiz said. “But mainly I wanted to interact with my Judaism in more of an academic setting, so I took advantage of the Jewish studies program. I took a class about a modern take on Israel-Palestine relations, and that was very helpful for me to try to put spirituality in context with academic endeavors.”

There are so many ways to stay in touch with your Jewish identity post-BBYO. In college, you could follow in these Northwestern students’ footsteps: join Jewish fraternities/sororities, audition for Jewish acapella groups or theatre ensembles, attend services at a local synagogue, or get involved with Hillel on campus. Wherever you end up after your time in BBYO, you will find your community. You will find your place. And always remember, “Wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish!”

Jess Daninhirsch is a BBG from Keystone Mountain Region who loves journalism, photography, art, music, and dance.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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