Saturday, November 3, 2012

"Jew You Should Know - Sam Allen" by Kaylin Bugos

Mitzpeh.com 10/31/12
Sam Allen
When Sam Allen came to the University of Maryland, he was an Orthodox Jew who had never stepped outside of the Orthodox community.
 “I was raised in a very sheltered and bubbled community,” said the senior chemistry and family science major. “It was exclusively Orthodox. All of my friends were Orthodox, my school was homogeneously Orthodox, my summer camp was Orthodox, my synagogue was Orthodox. I didn’t have any friends who were not Jewish, or even of other denominations. I thought this was the world. I had no other interactions, so I had no idea.”
 Allen began his time at Maryland as a part of that community, even serving as a board member for Kedma, the Orthodox student group.
 Gradually, however, the diversity at this university allowed him to change and his beliefs to evolve, he said.

“It was the first time I had ever stepped out of that bubble,” Allen said. Although he was raised in a traditional Orthodox community, Allen doesn’t currently identify with a particular denomination and considers himself Jewish, “with the emphasis on the ‘ish.’”
Allen said that some of that religious transformation is connected to his realization during his sophomore year that he is gay. He came out a few weeks after this realization.
“I didn’t think gay was an option,” he said. “The way that I felt, I thought was pretty standard and only when I came to college did I realize that that wasn’t the case and I was able to step out of the community that I was raised in and realize that people are actually gay.”
Since coming out, Allen has changed for the better, according to Atara Bernstein, who has been friends with him since preschool.
“He behaves as if a huge weight has been lifted,” she said. “He is more attentive, caring, focused, and driven.”
His current roommate agrees: “Since Sam has come out, he seems to be a happier person in the sense that he feels freer showing his true colors,” Sam Mitrani said. “After being confined by religious restrictions for so many years, ‘coming out’ has allowed Sam to express himself with less inhibition, sexuality only being one aspect of that.”
Allen credits the university for giving him the opportunity to undergo that transformation.
“Maryland really has changed my life. I don’t know if it would have happened in another environment,” he said.

Although Allen said the Orthodox community here did not socially ostracize him, he no longer felt comfortable with the religious aspects of Orthodoxy after coming out.
“So many aspects of Orthodox Judaism are heteronormative and homophobic,” he said. “I just had such a conflict having such convictions about a sect that ultimately rejects me and my lifestyle.”
In addition to coming out and changing his religious views at Maryland, Allen has also found other passions here and is involved in a seemingly endless list of organizations.
“He's such an inspiration to me and everyone that he comes in contact with,” Bernstein said. “His palpable sense of drive in regards to his career, his job, his academics, and LGBT issues motivates everyone around him to reach their full potential.”
As a freshman, Allen joined Rak Shalom, one of Maryland’s Jewish a cappella groups and made many of his friends through it.
“We’re a cappella friends, but we’re also legitimately friends,” Allen said. “We hang out both in rehearsal and out, both sober and not.”
Two years ago, Allen went to culinary school in New York City and now considers himself a “foodie.”
“I try not to eat anything processed or anything mass produced,” Allen said. “Processed food is naturally less healthy than fresh, local food. Additionally, I don’t support the food industry mass-producing its food the way that it does. It jeopardizes the quality of the food, and oftentimes they try to deceive the consumers.”
This interest in food has meant many delicious meals for his closest friends: “Being a true foodie, not only is Sam’s food delicious - it’s seasonal and healthy,” Mitrani said. “Sam recently made a roasted cauliflower and butternut squash soup, and vegan pumpkin flax pound cake, both of which were absolutely delicious. He definitely makes it feel like autumn at home!”
But his list of activities doesn’t end there. Since leaving his Orthodox “bubble,” he has found passion in a number of other places.
In addition to his double major, Allen is working to complete minors in vocal performance and LGBT studies. He gives campus tours as a member of Images. He is president of two honors societies, one for the School of Public Health and one for the family science department. He is a teaching assistant for Organic Chemistry II.
He teaches group fitness classes at the ERC. He leads training sessions for the Rainbow Terrapin Network, a group of students, faculty, and staff that learn how to be allies to LGBT students. He is the director of administrative affairs for the Student Government Association.
So how does he find time for all of it? His answer is simple. “I don’t sleep.

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