Parashat Nitzavim foretells that the Jewish people will stray from the covenant and be exiled from the land of Israel, but then will return to God. The Torah promises, “Even if your exiles are at the end of the heavens, the Lord, your God, will gather you from there, and He will take you from there.” (Deuteronomy 30:4)
Today, most Jews do not see themselves as exiles. Jews in the land of Israel have returned from geographic exile, and Jews in places like the United States have left social exile to become part of mainstream society.
Nonetheless, the home—exile continuum remains relevant for Jewish life and Hillel work. We bring students “home” to Israel on Birthright, where they often encounter profound religious, political and cultural differences between themselves and Israelis.
Back on campus, students may feel at home, until an offhand offensive comment or lack of understanding of Judaism leaves them feeling like they have to choose between their distinctively Jewish and universally human identities. Or, they simply miss the Jewish life they experienced with their family and community of origin and struggle to re-create it on campus.
As Hillel professionals, we are called on to help our students navigate the exiles and homes our students may experience at one and the same moment.
Ben Goldberg is rabbinic intern at Rutgers Hillel.