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Packing a Jewish Ritual for College

September 02, 2015 3 min read

This blog by our Communications Intern Hannah Elbaum was first published in the Times of Israel. 

There are clothes all over my floor; lists of “things to pack”, “things to buy”, and “things to find in this mess” are strewn across my desk. Stacks of books are piling up, but suggestions in the Facebook group from older students say to leave the books at home; we will collect countless new ones in our adventures at college.

Bringing my physical belongings is complicated enough, but what about my Jewish identity? How exactly does one bring a Jewish ritual to college? You can’t buy a cute set of colorful drawers and shove a ritual in there next to your stamps and socks. You also can’t preorder it at Bed, Bath and Beyond and pick it up at the store nearest your campus. A ritual comes from the heart, from your past. Usually shared with others, a ritual has deep meaning and is practiced regularly.

My Jewish involvement has always been right at my fingertips. We live three minutes from the synagogue where I’ve grown up since nursery school. I made friends and took an interest in text studies, especially those that presented multiple sides of an argument amongst rabbis across generations. At one point or another I participated in every opportunity offered by my synagogue; except for Jew Man Group (boys only)–not that I didn’t try!

In high school, I began to seek programs outside of my temple’s walls, and I participated in many that are offered in the Greater Boston area. Last summer, I joined an adult learning Talmud class and convinced my dad to join me every week. I feel incredibly fortunate to have grown up in a place where the choices for young Jews are plentiful, and where I felt truly at home with Jewish ritual

The college I chose — for the empowering community, rigorous academics, and beautiful campus — does not have an abundant population of Jewish students, and I know Jewish involvement will be an activity and community I will have to more proactively seek.

Some of the time — all of the time — it is difficult to imagine leaving my home. My parents ensure that there is always food in the refrigerator, books on the shelves, and clothes for every season. My brothers, though often louder than I would like, are part of the life I know and understand. Unlike my routine here, there are so many unknowns about college, from roommates and friends, to classes and advisors. Once, I heard that moving away to college is the biggest transition for any person since they began to attend preschool. I certainly believe that.

While this upheaval of leaving for college may seem like the end of the world as I know it, the reality is that it is simply a change, a transition. Rather, like the restful time of Shabbat prepares us for a new week, my life until now has prepared me well for this next stage. I am ready.

At the end of Shabbat, we mark the change with havdallah, the word itself meaning separation. Though usually celebrated on Saturday evening after three stars can be seen in the sky, havdallah can be mark the end of Shabbat as late into the week as Tuesday evening.

I learned in Hebrew school that the early days of the week are still basking in the glow of Shabbat, and the relaxing, rejuvenating power of the day of rest can extend a little longer, if necessary. After Tuesday though, the rest of the week becomes a time for preparation for the next Shabbat. Throughout the week, we are able to look back and forward, understanding the rhythm and cycle of life. And the havdallah ceremony with spices, wine, and a braided candle, can be performed to mark any transition or separation in life.

Before I leave for college I will celebrate havdallah and mark the separation between my life now and my life in college. While I am not saying one part is more holy than the other, I am actively showing that these two parts of my life are distinct from each other, offering me different opportunities to learn and grow. Each week in college, I may not make it to a communal havdallah ceremony, but I will mark the separation in my own way. I will take each week, each change, and each next step as they come, trusting that my experiences thus far have readied me for whatever is to come.

Looking for more of Hannah's beautiful writing?  Check out her blogs here, here and here.   And get more great stories like these delivered straight to your inbox by signing up below!

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