“Forty days and forty nights” is a frequently said phrase throughout the Torah. It is the number of days and nights that rain fell during the Flood, that spies explored the land of Israel, and that Moses spent on Mount Sinai to speak to G-d, three consecutive times.
It is also the number of “days and nights” that I have wandered the Syracuse campus as an ignorant, lost freshman desperately trying to find my way. My “forty day” journey began on August 19th when I moved in early for Freshfest, the Hillel pre-orientation program. Immediately, I was playing Jewish Geography with other freshmen and the facilitators. I did more activities in my first three days on campus than most freshmen do in their first month. I moved-in early, went to an “amusement park,” went cosmic bowling, went on a scavenger hunt around campus, met 150 new people (and subsequently forgot ALL of their names), listened to a Greek panel, and attended an activities fair, just to name a few.
A few days later, I attended the first Shabbat of the year. After a long week of engaging in constant small talk, attending three different convocations, and hearing “WELCOME TO SYRACUSE” one too many times, hearing the first words of Kabbalat Shabbat was a breath of fresh air. I remember looking at the people around me and thinking to myself, “It’s about time for something familiar.” Being surrounded by other Jews – people who have similar ideals, values, and traditions – was so comforting that evening, and every day thereafter.
Since then, I have gone to every single Shabbat for which I have been on campus, attended Rosh Hashanah services, meals and Tashlich, gone apple picking, and celebrated Sukkot in a sukkah!
Hillel has provided me with a strong support system on campus full of caring, active, and fun students who are always willing to help this lost freshman find her way! I know I will only get further involved.
And, did I even mention the food?!?!
Ilana Siegal is from Cleveland, Ohio and a Freshman at Syracuse University, dual-majoring in International Relations and Communications.
This story originally appeared on the Syracuse Hillel Blog.