You Should Know … Bailey Pasternak


Bailey Pasternak has always been connected to Jewish life.

Johns Hopkins sophomore Bailey Pasternak helps put up a sukkah, continuing a theme of building strong Jewish foundations. (Courtesy)

The 19-year-old grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, attending day school through eighth grade before deciding to move on to public high school. He grew up in a traditional home, the only child of a doctor (mom Allison Gilmore) and lawyer (dad Michael Pasternak), where synagogue, Israel and Jewish history were the norm.

The sophomore at Johns Hopkins University is majoring in international studies with a focus on the Middle East and a minor in Jewish studies. He has been to Israel half a dozen times with his family and went on the Birthright Israel program this past summer on a trip affiliated with Hopkins. He’s also actively involved with Hillel on campus.

When did you first go to Hillel, and what do you do in terms of community relations?
Before I got to Hopkins (in fact, before I even got accepted), I knew I would be involved in campus Jewish life. My Jewish identity is so important to me that I only applied to schools with kosher food and strong Orthodox communities. When I got to Hopkins (literally, the day after I arrived in Baltimore), I simply walked into Hillel, started meeting other Jewish studens and had fun during the orientation activities. Now, I participate in our morning minyan during the week, our services during Shabbat and different learning groups. I am also president of a Hillel and registered student organization called Israel Middle East Forum (IMF). In IMF, we have biweekly discussions on topics that I prepare and facilitate regarding Israeli and Middle Eastern politics. We get about 20 students to participate and have lively discussions, diverse opinions and great food!

Why do you think it’s important to be involved Jewishly on campus?
Judaism has been part of my identity since I was a baby. My dad would read me Midrashic stories of Avraham in Nimrod’s furnace, the story of David and Goliath, heroic exploits from the Israeli wars of independence, Eli Cohen’s espionage adventures in Syria and more. Family gatherings were centered on the Jewish calendar around holidays and other events.

My Jewish school, synagogue and summer-camp experiences formed the bedrock of my character and social skills. My rabbis growing up were the main source of guidance and support for me after my parents. To me, Judaism is home. When I am in the presence of a great Jewish environment, I feel like I’m home. I’m active in my Jewish community because I want to feel like I’m home on campus.

Where do you see yourself going forward in the Jewish world, organizationally and personally?
IMF is a great way for me to stay current issues in Israel and the surrounding region, and a way for me to spread Israeli education to the people who attend our meetings. I am also involved in learning programs at Hillel, led by Orthodox Rabbi Don Cantor, in order to continue my Jewish learning on campus. I want to get even more involved with Hillel by running for a leadership position on the student board so I can be involved in the decision-making process that contributes to a rich, fulfilling and fun Jewish experience at Johns Hopkins. After that, I don’t know where my involvement will take me. However, I know my desire to participate in the Jewish community, to continually strengthen my Jewish identity, drives my decisions, and I am confident that will continue later in life.

What’s your favorite quote and why?
“Peace is the beauty of life. It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth.” — Menachem Begin Nobel Lecture, Dec. 10, 1978

Unconditional in his love for all Jews, uncompromising in the security of the State of Israel, unwavering in his connection to Judaism, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was just the best. He accomplished the longest-lasting peace agreement between Israel and an Arab country, Egypt. Begin was by no means a pacifist; he recognized when Israel and the Jewish people had to stand up and fight. But he also knew when to push for peace.

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