A couple of people wrote to me about my young friend at FSU, and I feel obliged to tell you a little more about her.
My last post only dealt with a small part of what she wrote. She has indeed gone to Hillel (which several people suggested). It’s not easy for her to get there; these Florida college campuses are HUGE and she’s taking a heavy course load. She writes: “They are really welcoming and I have talked to some people there, but it’s also very small and not extremely active due to limited resources…Part of my issue is that I am too busy to get involved or even show up regularly and start feeling more connected. But there is another part of me that doesn’t see the point.”
It’s the part of her “that doesn’t see the point” that I’ve been thinking about. Like many, she doesn’t get much out of the services, and the main attraction is the food. She did sign up for their seder but it was full so she ended up at the Chabad seder, and was disheartened to discover that most of the students were there for the free wine, and as the evening progressed they got increasingly drunk and rowdy. That is most definitely not what she wants.
What she’s looking for — what I think we all are looking for — is that elusive place which can’t be described, but you know it when you get there. It’s a feeling of being at home. Belonging. As my wise and frustrated young friend put it, a place that feels like family. A place with a Jewish heart.
Which is why she titled her message to me “fitting in Jewishly.” Sometimes that’s easier said than done. Especially when you’re 19 years old and still trying to figure out your place in the world.
I told her that I don’t have any good advice. My daughter Sarah does however. Sarah suggests the buddy system. She’s a sophomore at Ithaca College, and discovered that the Hillel kids at IC weren’t very nice or welcoming. She felt so uncomfortable that she skipped most of the High Holiday services, even though she really wanted to go.
This year, she happened to make friends with another Jewish girl and they started going to Hillel together. It made an enormous difference, and she actually began to enjoy herself.
Maybe that’s the secret. It reminds me of Robert Fulghum’s “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” In case you haven’t seen it in a while, here’s an abridged version:
Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten
These are the things I learned:
Don’t hit people.
Put things back where you found them.
Clean up your own mess.
Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
Wash your hands before you eat.
Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Live a balanced life….
Take a nap every afternoon.
When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
Be aware of wonder.
…Think what a better world it would be if we all — the whole world — had cookies and milk about 3 o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and cleaned up our own messes.
And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
~ Robert Fulghum ~