Why Seek Out Jewish Life in College?
You’ve made it out of high school. You’re on your own at college, a new and magical place. You’re surrounded by completely new people and the world is at your fingertips. What’s the first thing you should do?
For me, the answer was simple: get involved in as many activities as humanly possible. I have always been the type of person who overcommits, so, naturally, I added my name to the email lists of some 15 different student organizations. I promptly received an email from the Lafayette College Hillel Society inviting me to join the group for dinner and services that Friday night.
When I was in high school I was essentially the token Jew in my graduating class. There are only three synagogues in my hometown of Charleston, SC, which has a very small Jewish population. I was active in my congregation, teaching Sunday school and Hebrew school for five years. Most important, I was a proud member of the North American Federation of Temple Youth. Being Jewish was my life in high school. I thought maybe in college I would find a new passion, but that was not the case.
Not surprisingly, I found myself at Hillel that first Friday of my freshman year, and then I found myself there week after week after week. To this day, as a sophomore, I go to Hillel every Friday, and was recently elected as Lafayette’s Hillel next president.
Initially (like a good Jewish girl), I went to please my mother, but soon Hillel became part of my weekly ritual. The people I met there were all had different majors and backgrounds. Not everyone who walks through our doors is Jewish, but we all come together once a week for the same reason—to sit, to relax, and to have a meal together.
Our Hillel shares the beauty of Shabbat with the entire Lafayette campus, providing an opportunity to take a break and meet new people every week. It is beautiful to have a place where people of all backgrounds come together and relax every week. My favorite part of my Hillel is that we are open to all people all the time. Not only do I get to share my religion and culture, but also learn about others in the community at the same time.
I love that Hillel also provides me with a religious community. One of the most difficult parts of freshman year was being away from home for all the holidays. Thanks to Hillel, I was able to find a group of like-minded individuals who also cared about practicing their religion. I love our Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover dinners, and Tashlich is powerful when I go down to the Delaware River with my friends to throw away my sins. It is less awkward, too, to go to an unfamiliar congregation when I walk in surrounded by friends whom I see every week. Through Hillel, I have been able to make a religious home away from home.
If you think that being Jewish in college isn’t for you, think again. Even if you’re not on the board, and don’t attend services every week, you still can find a place at Hillel—a place that doesn’t exist anywhere else on campus. In fact, you might even find your best friends like I did, waiting in line for bagels at the first Sunday brunch of freshman year. Before you write off your Hillel, give it a try. The community you find there just might change your entire college experience.