You’ve finally conquered high school. I know it was a bumpy ride – life in Omaha could be difficult sometimes, and I know you feel isolated from your Jewish peers. Moving from a Jewish day school to a public school with less than a dozen other Jewish students in it certainly didn’t help on that front. Jewish youth groups didn’t do it for you either, even though that’s where all the other Jewish teens were. Now you’ve decided that your Judaism is between you, your family and G-d, and you think that it will stay that way and you’ll be perfectly content.
You’re headed to the University of Kansas – a great school with a large Jewish community, but that’s not why you’re going there. You are convinced that your path will take you straight through college, focused on academics, and get you out the other side with a degree and a few good stories. Judaism isn’t really at the front of your mind right now.
Your family, however, is pushing you to get involved. They’ve sent you off to school with tallit, kippot, and a plea to go to some Jewish events. You know why they care so much – traditions run deep, from Shabbat dinner every Friday to all the holidays to all that Hebrew you learned. They would be immensely proud if you continued Jewishly.
But for your freshman year, you will stick to your philosophy of being a solo Jew. You’ll skip opportunities to join classes and events at Hillel. Your future starts sophomore year.
Mom and Dad will push you even harder to get involved in Jewish campus life. You will finally yield to their wishes and attend a class called Beren at KU Hillel. There, in addition to learning about Jewish issues and ideas, you will finally begin to open up to other students. You’ll stop avoiding conversations with Hillel staff and clergy and quickly realize that you had missed out on a considerable amount of amazing activities, programming, and friends during your freshman year. You’ll decide that you won’t make the same mistakes again. You’ll even go so far as to become a writing intern, writing articles and news about KU Hillel for the local Jewish newspaper and internal publications.
As you become a regular at Hillel, you’ll begin to appreciate the diversity of students who attend, learning about intersections of Judaism and race, sexuality and identity – topics you’d never been exposed to.
You may be thinking that my description of the future sounds a bit unlikely. You certainly don’t think you’re the kind of person who would do anything I’ve mentioned so far. Bear with me, though, because it gets even more implausible.
You’ll drive to the middle of a forest in Kansas for a Hillel sleepover retreat at a conference center. In the cabins, you’ll initially sit quietly in the living area, reluctant to engage in group activity (I’m sure you can believe that part). After dark, however, everyone will sit around a campfire with s’mores. Conversations will begin about topics ranging from music to schoolwork to families to G-d. You’ll feel comfortable talking to these people and realize that they are now friends who are open and willing to let you into their lives. It happens that easily. Those kind of people – open, friendly, engaging, interesting – are the types of people that go to Hillel. You’ll finally get that you’ve found your place with them.
Two of those new friends will become your junior year roommates, and you’ll go to Hillel events together. You’ll continue attending Beren and classes about Jewish ethics and Israel. Sometimes, you’ll just sit and hang out at Hillel because you just like the people there. Oh, and you’ll land a marketing internship, too.
Believe it or not, you will connect with a Jewish community in college. Hillel will welcome you with open arms, even if you’re reluctant to embrace them at first. The people at Hillel will be some of the kindest, most approachable, most considerate people you’ll have ever met.
You have a lot to look forward to. You will be amazed at how easy and how rewarding it is when you finally open up.
— Sam (Class of ’21, KU)