Be an am­bas­sador for Ju­daism — leave home

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis -

THE NEW uNI­vER­SITy term is un­der way and, as un­der­grad­u­ates set­tle in, hope­ful ap­pli­cants are con­sid­er­ing their op­tions for 2009. It is that time of year when peo­ple of a cer­tain age are, in var­i­ous ways, think­ing se­ri­ously about uni­ver­sity. Whether you are a fi­nal­ist, a fresher or just beginning the ap­pli­ca­tion process, there are de­ci­sions to be made and chal­lenges faced. A Jewish stu­dent faces ad­di­tional com­plex­i­ties when choos­ing the right course. Do I want to re­tain my Jewish iden­tity? Pro­tect my prac­tices and spir­i­tu­al­ity? And, if the an­swer to those ques­tions is yes, would I be bet­ter off stay­ing at home?

Al­though most of the com­mu­nity’s stu­dents do go away to cam­pus uni­ver­si­ties, a re­cent trend for more young peo­ple to study at a yeshivah or sem­i­nary in Is­rael has prompted an at­ten­dant in­crease in the num­bers stay­ing at home to study.

of course, it’s a per­sonal de­ci­sion; what’s right for one is not al­ways right for an­other. But if you are about to ap­ply and are un­sure about the ad­di­tional chal­lenges of liv­ing on cam­pus, let me tell you that it can be the per­fect way to en­hance your Ju­daism.

Be­ing on cam­pus gives you a unique op­por­tu­nity to de­cide who you want to be — not in the clichéd sense of “find­ing your­self”, but re­al­is­ti­cally, by find­ing your Jewish com­fort zone. For the first time, you find your­self out­side your fam­ily unit and your fa­mil­iar com­mu­nity. Be­ing in new sur­round­ings negates the pos­si­bil­ity of do­ing things out of habit; you have the chance ac­tively to build your own Jewish iden­tity and en­cour­age oth­ers to do the same. More of­ten than not, stu­dents who never thought they would want to be in­volved find them­selves turn­ing up to a Fri­day-night din­ner or two.

Be­ing away from home forces you to con­front the dif­fer­ent facets of your iden­tity and choose which parts of it are im­por­tant to you.

I can­not deny that, as a Mod­ern or­tho­dox Jew, I face daily chal­lenges to main­tain my level of Ju­daism, but I am cer­tainly not alone. I am con­stantly in­spired by the sup­port of the lo­cal chap­lain and by the way stu­dents sup­port each other.

This very real sense of com­mu­nity ul­ti­mately en­cour­ages in­di­vid­u­als to be­come leaders. I would not have felt ca­pa­ble of lead­ing my fel­low stu­dents as a Jewish So­ci­ety pres­i­dent had I not shared ex­pe­ri­ences with them day in, day out. Al­though be­ing a youth leader can pro­vide sim­i­lar lo­gis­ti­cal and or­gan­i­sa­tional skills, it does not teach one how to lead one’s peers, some­thing of enor­mous value in adult life. And, for those who want it, the com­mu­nal at­mos­phere of­fers re­li­gious op­por­tu­ni­ties too: at home you may not get the chance to lead a shiur (re­li­gious dis­cus­sion) or get a hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence of run­ning a kosher kitchen. Fe­males and males have proven them­selves equally ca­pa­ble in both cases.

Fi­nally, there is the valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing among non-Jews — some of whom, in my case, had never met a Jew be­fore and gen­uinely ap­pre­ci­ated learn­ing about Ju­daism. Lo­gis­ti­cally, we can’t all live in Hil­lel houses, and halls of res­i­dence pro­vide a clear op­por­tu­nity to do a Kid­dush Hashem, and give a pos­i­tive im­pres­sion of Jews and Jewish­ness sim­ply by be­ing a friendly neigh­bour.

With re­gard to de­fend­ing Ju­daism or Is­rael, it is not al­ways enough to hold in­for­ma­tive events or coun­ter­demon­stra­tions. I have found that you have to be there in the cam­pus cof­fee shop, li­brary or com­mon room when stu­dent dis­cus­sions in­evitably turn to what is “wrong with the world”. once you live in this at­mos­phere, you ap­pre­ci­ate not shy­ing away from it. Be­ing on cam­pus, and not at home, en­ables you to en­sure that your neigh­bours are, at the very least, bet­ter in­formed. Sheli Leven­son is a fi­nal-year mod­ern-lan­guages un­der­grad­u­ate at Clare Col­lege, Cam­bridge, and a for­mer pres­i­dent of the Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Jewish So­ci­ety

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