The Conspiracy

A Magazine for All ’70 Faces’ of Our Community

It started over a cup of coffee.

I had just gone to Israel and was eager to continue learning about that illusive country I had just been exposed to. Courtney Strauss had just started her new job as Director of Engagement of the Hillel Jewish University Center at the University of Pittsburgh and was eager to help students connect Judaism to other parts of their lives. I am an English major and write for the school newspaper. A Pitt English grad herself, Strauss wanted to find a way to bring English, writing, and literature to students’ connections with Judaism. She reached out to me for ideas. We talked about open mic nights for students to share their work, literary circles to read famous works through a Jewish lens, and so many more ideas, but none came into fruition.

When we met for our hundredth cup of coffee, Courtney was all business. She had an idea to start a publication. A Jewish publication. Although we left several details undetermined, after that first meeting, we decided that the publication would run once a semester, consist entirely of student submissions, and be based around a different theme for each issue. The first theme: social justice.

Mental illness. Sexism. Patriotism. Poverty and hunger. Autism. Domestic violence and abuse. Police brutality. Media relations. LGBTQ rights. The Holocaust. Tikkun olam. A call to action.

The pieces we received spanned a variety of topics, each one meaningful to the author in some unique way. They came in the form of essays and narratives, poems, drawings, photographs and paintings. They came from students heavily involved with Hillel and students who thought “Hillel” was a made-up word. They came from students strongly connected to their Jewish heritage, students who identified as Jewish but weren’t deeply connected to Judaism, students who connected to another religion, and students who had no religion at all. They were male and female, upperclassmen and underclassmen, people of all races.

After much debate, we decided to call the magazine 70 Faces. The title is credited to Jake Gillis, a Pitt graduate, who remembered a teaching that the Torah has seventy distinct faces, one face for each interpretation. Throughout the ages, students of the Torah have come up with countless ways to read the meanings of the words in accordance with their own individual knowledge and experience. There has never been one right or wrong way to read the text; there are over seventy different interpretations. This is exactly what makes the Torah so “Jewish.”

Raised in a Reform Jewish household, my family never did much more than celebrate the major holidays, drag me to Sunday school every weekend, and eat matzah brie during Passover because it was yummy. So when I returned from Israel, I struggled to define just exactly what being “Jewish” meant to me. I met with Danielle Kranjec, my Hillel’s senior Jewish educator, many times, and as I learned more about the meaning of “70 Faces,” the more I realized that the best way to define the phrase was to not define it. “Jewish” can mean a lot of things, and part of being Jewish is accepting and embracing unique opinions and ideas. In the Jewish faith, it is believed that diversity makes a community stronger.

“It’s not just that there is diversity and plurality, but that each of the voices are valued. We [as a community] would be less rich and less full if we didn’t have opinions, voices and perspectives,” Kranjec said. “We can’t function as individuals.”

Part of the goal for the magazine was to prevent students from functioning solely as individuals, to encourage them to join a community where they can listen, express diverse opinions, and create that community for themselves.

Our community focuses on Jewish values, but extends beyond the Jewish faith. Our vice president, Anika Mavinkurve, practices Hinduism but felt equally connected to the values laid forth by the Torah.

“It was a captivating idea that worked to unite students of different faiths and religious beliefs by talking about core values we all believe in and feel strongly about, even though the magazine is ultimately a Jewish one,” Mavinkurve said.

Over meetings with Mavinkurve, I learned more about the Hindu religion and her beliefs on the topics the magazine focuses on. She told me later the experience taught her how to compromise and listen, and I have noticed the same in myself.

We received late submissions, pushing the deadline for production back further and further. We completed the layout in only three days, and slept very little because of it. The publisher was forced to hand-staple the pages in order to have a magazine to distribute at our launch party.

At the party, student artwork was displayed and authors read their pieces. One student performed three songs that connected her to social justice. Between readings, students had time to snack on refreshments and talk about the ideas they heard. Over 80 students attended the event, some had submitted pieces, some were friends of the authors, and others simply wanted to hear what the students had to say. Mavinkurve led the event, opening with a reading of her piece, a call to action for our generation to enact the changes we want to see.

“Every semester will bring a new issue of 70 Faces to more students’ hands and will spread the word to a wider and larger reach,” Mavinkurve said. “I know that this magazine and those who submitted and the pieces that were submitted have already made an impact on me.”

The hope is that the magazine will have a different impact on each person who reads it.

Zachary Schaffer, student president of Hillel and business manager for 70 Faces, thought the impact was already there.

“It is not every day that a college student takes time out of his or her day to think about different values and write or read or create something about them,” Schaffer said.

We know we have already impacted the community. To keep this impact going, we have chosen “community” as the next issue’s theme. The 70 Faces community has already helped me to better understand what my Jewishness means to me and the impact a piece of work can have on a student body. For Mavinkurve, community has helped her learn and grow as an individual. For Schaffer, community is about sharing. We will spend the next five months finding out what it means to everyone else.

 

Lauren Rosenblatt is a student at the University of Pittsburgh.

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