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Illini Hillel Centennial Blog #8: Completing the Conversation with Three Illini Hillel Alumni

By Ezra Shelato

Editors note: this is the third and (for now) final post in a series. You can read parts one and two here and here.

'Our deep thanks to Dawn Weiner-Kaplow, Rabbi Irwin Keller, and Sara Lynn Newberger. When they sat down to reminisce about their shared time at Illini Hillel, they were kind enough to record the meeting for use here on the Centennial Blog.

Irwin: Let’s talk about the Israeli dancing.

Dawn: I’ll start off this conversation. I know that Irwin and I, during high school at our summer camp, we did some Israeli dance. So for me it was very natural, once I got to college, to seek it out. And Hillel had a pretty robust group of dancers on a weekly basis. I think it was either my first or second year when Nancy Parish-Plass took over the teaching at Hillel. It was a regular weekly thing, we became a close group. And then within that group we started an Israeli performing troupe. I remember performing at the University International festival. We were on stage in the [Illini] Union, and there were many other international dance groups performing. We went to a shopping mall, and we went to a classroom and we performed for students at an elementary school.

Irwin: I remember the feedback from the students, I remember seeing their written feedback. “I like the one with the candles”. Because we did Dror Yikra [a Shabbat dance] with candles down on the ground.

Dawn: One of my strong memories with Israeli dance was on the quad on Yom Haatzmaut, and again Nancy Parish-Plass was running the dancing, and as often happens there were protests, anti-Israel protests from some of the students. They were holding up protest posters. And one of the songs that we loved to dance to was an Arabic song called Ya’abud, and when that song came on there was a lot of giggling from behind the posters. And you could see it, and for a minute it felt as though we could bridge this divide, where we’re dancing to their music, we value that Arabic music, and it’s a Middle Eastern dance, and it’s one of the dances that we do. That’s a really powerful memory that I have. And that small group of Israeli dancers, from within the larger Hillel dance group became closer, and we went camping together and danced around the campfire. So again, Illini Hillel had a strong influence in that way as well.

Dawn: This was mostly after you had graduated, right Sara Lynn?

Sara Lynn: No, I danced as part of Israeli dancing, not part of the performance group, [during] my senior year. I had learned a little bit of Israeli dancing in high school, and I think I came along [to Hillel] to do some dancing for many weeks. I remember we danced at Dawn’s wedding too.

Irwin: That’s where there’s a picture of me dipping you, Sara Lynn.

Dawn: It was Giora Feidman’s Rikud Hachatunah, the wedding dance, and we all danced that at my wedding, and I do have pictures.

Irwin: That’s right, we created choreography, so that was the time that Sara Lynn stepped in to perform.

Sara Lynn: I was not a really big Israeli dance performer, but I did like dancing, and did it for a bunch of years after that. I danced a bunch in Israel the year that we were all there. Then the year after that, I danced at Northwestern Hillel, or at the JCC in Skokie, I can’t remember which. And I danced for a lot of years after that.

Dawn: So if you came in with just a little bit of dance from high school, then it was your years at Hillel that moved you forward learning.

Sara Lynn: Oh yeah, I learned a lot of dances at Hillel.

Dawn: It made it part of your life.

Sara Lynn: Yeah, for a bunch of years.

Irwin: I remember Nancy knew all these Israeli choreographers, so she brought [a few of them in].

Dawn: And just as an aside, Nancy, who lives in Israel, still does Israeli dance on a regular basis. So again, Hillel was a huge influence for us in that way.

Dawn: Anyway, anything else, guys?

Sara Lynn: It’s really nice to talk about it. And it’s really nice to talk about it with the two of you.

Dawn: It’s fun to reminisce about it. I hope that they will enjoy hearing our old people stories about our years at Hillel. But it was a great time. The U of I Hillel was an awesome support, resource, and social and cultural place for us. Especially in a huge state University.

Sara Lynn: Right, and I came in my junior year and lived in an apartment, so that really meant that [Hillel] was the way that I hooked in. I mean clearly I hooked in with people who were in my classes, but I hooked in with the Jewish community through Hillel.

Irwin: Well you two, lovely to see you as always, and much continued excitement and success for University of Illinois Hillel in the future.

Dawn: Amen!

Sara Lynn: Amen to that.

Do you have a story about your time at Illini Hillel or a loved one's time at Illini Hillel? Share your story today to be featured in a future centennial blog!

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