Name: Samantha Hano
Hebrew Name: Shmuela
School: University of Massachusetts Amherst, Class of 2022
Major: Public Health, Psychology
Favorite Jewish Food: Shawarma
Favorite Jewish Person: Deborah Schutzman
Favorite Jewish Holiday: Hanukkah
Favorite Singer: Banners
Favorite Book: A Thousand Splendid Suns
Favorite Movie: Inception
Favorite Travel Destination: California
What was your Jewish background growing up?
I wasn’t very religious during my early childhood, and it wasn’t until I entered Hebrew school in the sixth grade until I actually began to understand what being a Jew really meant. I had always celebrated Hanukkah and knew that I wasn’t Christian, but that was pretty much the extent of it. I would see all of my friends talk about going to church and what their religion meant to them, and I was like, “I have no idea what Judaism means to me.” I attended Temple B’nai Abraham and became a bat mitzvah when I was twelve.
How did going on Y2I influence your perspective on your Jewish identity?
Going to Israel definitely influenced my Jewish background. I think people in Israel are a different type of Jewish, in a good way. I think they deal with a lot of adversity and conflict, and the ability for them to be so prideful and be authentically Jewish is really inspiring. They seem so comfortable and confident with who they are and their Jewish heritage which is really different, and was something I hadn’t seen before.
How has Judaism shaped you as a person?
It’s shaped me in so many ways, I think especially going to temple and interacting with more Jews in general has definitely showed me how my personal values meld with those of Judaism. I think Jews are very accepting of everyone, no matter their views, sexual orientation, or political standpoint. There’s a strong sense of community that all Jews have, and it’s something that they really value and I think that’s extremely important. It’s been instilled upon me through going to temple and having my bat mitzvah.
How does Judaism influence who you are today?
It influences me a lot, especially since coming to UMass. Even though there are more Jews here than there were back in Beverly, I still feel like I have to assert myself as Jewish. I’m still different, I’m still in the minority, I’m still an outlier, and I feel like it’s kind of my responsibility to show people, “Hey, Jews are cool and this is what we value!” We have something to prove and show for ourselves in the political-cultural sector of society. I think we bring a unique perspective because we have to face so much adversity that other religions don’t have.
How does your Jewish identity differ from older generations?
I think we’re much more liberal in the way we practice Judaism. I think the whole idea of Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Orthodox Judaism, is not necessarily the means by which we can classify different sectors of our religion. I think everything is flowing together now, and you don’t have to assert your level of Judaism now. You can just be Jewish and be proud of it. You don’t have to say that you’re ultra-Orthodox or keep kosher, there are other ways we can express our religion through other ways than tangible things.
What are your thoughts on the BDS events at UMass?
They made me so unbelievably upset. I think the most upsetting event was when they had anti-Israel speakers come who claimed that it wasn’t anti-Semitic, but it very obviously was. And the fact that I know UMass cannot legally do anything about it, but taking any form of effort to stop the promotion of this event could have been done. It’s just really upsetting that a university that I think is really liberal and very open about differing opinions and respecting the diversity at this school would let something like that happen.
What are your plans for the future?
Oh, that’s the question. I definitely love my majors, I love public health, I love psychology. I want to use what I learn here to help people, whether that’s going into clinical psychology, working for the UN, or going into public relations. Any way that I can communicate with a large variety of people and apply the skills that I’m acquiring, like cross-cultural communication and interpersonal relationships, I think that’s really important for me to be doing when I’m older.