Sarah Brown, 21, finished college last week with flying colors. A member of the Jewish-interest sorority Sigma Rho Lambda, which won an award for having the highest grade point average within Greek life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s campus, she herself won honors for having the highest individual GPA within the school’s Greek Alliance Council.
Brown, who graduates in May, took 21 credit hours this year and still wound up with a 4.0 average, this despite her part-time job, internship and volunteering. She’s also president of the undergraduates at the Rohr Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Student Center and serves as Judaism chair of her sorority’s council.
“I got through it all because of Chabad,” says Brown, who credits the programs run by Rabbi Zalman and Yehudis Bluming with reminding students like her to keep a healthy perspective that looks beyond academics to encouraging the development of family values, community involvement and faith. “You have no idea how much I look forward to Friday night and the Sabbath. It really is a day of rest for me, and it makes a huge difference in my ability to keep going.”
Brown and her friends unwind, sing and eat home-cooked food at the Blumings’ dinner table while conversing about “Torah, about life, about anything and everything,” she relates. After a week of being busy, she enjoys reconnecting with the Blumings and the other students and community members who join them.
“Sarah is a tremendous role model of how to gracefully synthesize the highest of academic achievements with steadfast devotion to nurturing and building her Jewish community on campus and her personal Jewish journey,” says Zalman Bluming, who has known the graduating senior for six years.
“Students constantly look up to her incredible enthusiasm in the way she practices Judaism and especially how she keeps the Sabbath,” adds Yehudis Bluming. “Under her leadership, Chabad on campus has become widely recognized as the heart of Jewish life on campus.”
As Jewish chair of Sigma Rho Lambda, Brown organized a women’s Passover Seder for the sorority, as well as challah baking and hamentashen baking events, post-Sabbath Havdalah services and study sessions. And as Chabad student president, she focused on outreach, especially to fellow undergraduates.
“We’ve been having a lot of BBQs this year, and the goal is just to bring people by, to have a really fun social environment where they can feel comfortable and feel a sense of Jewish environment,” explains Brown, noting that such seemingly inconsequential things as a Super Bowl party can provide Jewish experiences to students who “want to hang out.”
Brown, who goes on to a job as a counselor and trainer at a weight loss summer camp following graduation, says that she trusts her involvement in Jewish life and learning – last summer, she attended the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies, a Chabad-Lubavitch run institution in Jerusalem, and also took part in the Jewish heritage-focused Sinai Scholars retreat – will continue.
She recalls her five weeks at Mayanot as an amazing time of learning and growth that changed her understanding of her religion and the world. The various programs she has been a part of have helped shape her knowledge of how Judaism fits into her life as an adult, she adds. What Judaism has to offer upon further learning, she believes, is timeless and applicable to her real-world needs.
“I think it’s even more meaningful to be able to find something that can really guide your life within your own culture, and not having to go someplace else for it,” she explains. The sense of community and family she found at the Chabad House, as well as its focus on Jewish joy “is contagious.”
Sarah Klein, who met Brown at Chabad dinners and works in the area, says she has been consistently impressed by Brown’s ability to juggle her various responsibilities.
“It seems like she does it easily, very smoothly,” says Klein. “I know she works a lot, and she’s very responsible.”
But what stands out is her character, affirms Klein. “She’s one of the most honest and candid people I know. She’s a great friend, and always available to give advice. I think of her as somebody who is very passionate about her learning and [who is] very involved in the community.”