Any kind of moving is tough, but moving completely across the country to a place where you don’t know a single person might be one of the most difficult kinds.
This is why I’m so grateful my college has a Jewish center. Every week, ever since I arrived at school, I go to the Hillel Jewish Center on Fridays for Shabbat and this past week for the High Holidays to sing songs, recite prayers, and eat delicious, mercifully non-dining hall dinners. Going to Hillel is a part of my weekly routine; even if I have other plans for Friday night, I always make time to go for Shabbat.
The first week I came to Hillel, I was understandably nervous. I hadn’t been to services in years; I was used to lighting the candles with just my family at home. The second I entered the Jewish center though, I instantly felt home. Each of us who came were invited up to help light the candles, and we all joined in a circle to sing and pray afterwards. I felt as though I had joined an extended Jewish family, and I’ve felt that way ever since.
In my hometown, I was used to being the first Jewish person people had ever met. The Jewish community was very scarce. For several years, the small synagogue we had was under construction and services were performed in the church next door. I had never gotten days off for Jewish holidays, or any acknowledgement of the holidays from my schools. I had only attended services for a few years as a child, and even though my family and I celebrated the Jewish holidays at home, I didn’t know much about the history of my faith. I couldn’t speak or read a word of Hebrew, and never had a bat mitzvah.
Embracing Jewish faith, or even being Jewish at all, just wasn’t the norm where I lived, and I had grown to accept that.
Coming to a school with such a prominent Jewish population was initially a massive culture shock. I knew before I came here that I wanted to be involved in Jewish activities, but I feared I might have a hard time fitting in amongst people who had been going to synagogue all their life. Thankfully, I met people who welcomed me with open arms, and were more than willing to teach me what was happening during the services, the melodies of the songs, and the meanings behind the Hebrew prayers. Now the songs come naturally to me; I’m no longer staring at my siddur (the Jewish prayer book) feeling completely lost.
Having a place to go every Friday night to unwind and connect to the faith I am still trying to decipher is a welcome break from the craziness of college life. Hillel is a safe and comforting space for me, and I love knowing that I can go to the rabbi and fellow students to talk at any time. The Jewish center has become something of a second home for me on campus.