“On the day I moved into my dorm room at University of Connecticut, I immediately walked into Hillel. I became involved in First Year Students of Hillel (FYSH), a program for students who want to connect with the Jewish community on campus. Each member is mentored by an active Hillel student, and I had the perfect pairing. We still talk every day, even though she now lives in Upstate New York, working as a Hillel International Springboard Fellow at University of Albany Hillel. Her name is Emma.
“Both of us were involved in theater in high school. Both of us wanted to work in the Jewish community. Both of us found our niche within UConn Hillel. Over time, our bond helped us formulate who we were as Jewish people. But for me, even more.
“During my second month of college, I came out to Emma. It never crossed my mind before then. Growing up, I didn’t feel the need to ‘come out.’ I attended a small Jewish day school, and there were only about 10 students in my graduating class. But college was a shock for me — sitting in 300-person lecture halls, meeting people from different walks of life. It was a whole new world, and I realized that my peers may judge me. I started thinking about it more and more.
“One night, while I was studying with Emma in the library, I suddenly asked her, ‘How do you interact with people who think differently than you? and ‘How do you not care about what other people say?’ We ended up putting our homework away and taking a drive around campus. I felt respected by and comfortable with her, so I decided to tell her first — ‘I like boys.’ Emma became my go-to person. She constantly reminded me that I was loved and supported by her and the Hillel community, no matter what. It meant a lot to know that she accepted me for who I truly am.
“Emma was there for me when I needed support, and without her, I wouldn’t have as much pride (no pun intended) about my gay, religious and Jewish identities as I do today.” — Nathan Schachter, member of Hillel International Student Cabinet, University of Connecticut