A Secular College Experience
Shortly after completing my freshman year at a prestigious university, I became a ba’alat teshuva. Newly observant, I found myself in the middle of a secular college campus with raging frat parties, major events on Shabbat, and immodesty at every turn. My remaining years of college were difficult, to put it lightly. I was constantly going against the grain, pushing myself to grow in Torah observance while fighting off the influences around me.
Socially I was isolated. While my friends were supportive of my new observant lifestyle, there was definitely a rift. Aside from no longer being able to attend their parties, I was gaining sensitivities in modesty and I was uncomfortable engaging in their very frank and open discussions and hearing their explicit language.
The missva of shomer negia (avoiding physical contact with members of the opposite gender) was a constant challenge. When meeting new people, I would be in the awkward position of saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t shake hands,” and then adding, with a polite smile, “But it’s very nice to meet you.” In fact, I met resistance from the administration when I requested not to shake the chancellor’s hand during the graduation ceremony.
On the first day of the semester, I would examine all of my syllabi and inevitably have to reschedule tests and due dates with my professors due to conflicts with holidays. Furthermore, in a liberal institution, nothing is off-limits in the classroom. It seemed to me that the professors gravitated towards the most taboo topics and I was oftentimes offended by the subject matter.
What bothered me the most, however, was the sanctity with which the study of esoteric academic topics was treated. It bordered on heretical. My professors, all renowned scholars in their fields, appeared to endow spiritual meaning into their pursuit of knowledge, yet their world was entirely devoid of Gd.
Baruch Hashem, I graduated with my observance intact. But after three-and-a-half years of university, all I have to show for my time is a non-practical Bachelors of Arts degree that I have not put to use. If I could do it over, I would have chosen one of the Orthodox-friendly college programs in which one could obtain a degree that offers career options in less time.
Higher Learning Affection
I’m not sure if it was intentional, but Rabbi Mansour’s inspiring cover story about ahavat Yisrael was a fitting backdrop for Kelly Jemal Massry’s informative article about Jewish colleges. Though there may be Jewish institutions of higher learning with which we disagree on a number of significant issues, and there may even be extreme elements associated with those institutions which fall outside the boundaries of traditional Orthodox Judaism, it is important that we not allow those differences to demonize an entire establishment.
I don’t advocate whitewashing or accepting a foreign hashkafa (philosophy), but, as Rabbi Mansour points out, when it comes to our Jewish brothers, we need to focus more on what we have in common and see the good in people (and institutions). Just as we would not want our own community to be generalized based on the questionable character of a few bad apples, we would be wise not to unreasonably stigmatize a whole institution.
From time to time, Hashem reminds us, through inquisitions, pogroms, and holocausts, of the dangers we face from the outside world. These horrific events galvanize us to act as one nation. But let’s not force Hashem to remind us the hard way anymore. Let us act the way He wants us to, with love and “Jewish affection” for all our brothers.
Inspiration During Incarceration
I am a Sephardi Jewish inmate currently housed in the California Rehabilitation Center. There are nine Jewish inmates here including myself… several Persian Jews, one Egyptian, (I’m a Morrocan/Yemenite) and the other guys are our Ashkenazi brothers…
I just received a copy of your wonderful magazine from a friend who lives in NY. It’s great, well written, and quite informative. I read it from cover to cover. If possible, I would love to receive Community Magazine every month.
Also I’m hoping you will allow me to correspond with you from time to time. This is clearly not a Jewish friendly environment. But I believe that Hashem is looking over us and everything will be fine.
Kémme Lémieux Canty
Only Shoes We Can Use
I’d like to compliment you on a fantastic religious magazine. I truly look forward to it every month. I recall that there was a debate over whether to remove the Fashion Flash section from the magazine, and I am happy it wasn’t removed. However, this past month’s page was very disturbing. It featured numerous pairs of shoes that are obviously inappropriate. Anyone who is striving towards seniut (modesty) in their dress code should not be encouraged to wear shoes that look like that. The point of the fashion updates is to inform us of the latest styles. However, the pictures should reflect that in a more appropriate manner. It would be much more helpful to feature styles that we can all safely incorporate into our wardrobes. This is the only religious publication I allow into my home, and I when I opened it to this page, I cringed.
Thank you again for an otherwise wonderful magazine.
Humor Can Be Sensitive
My family and I enjoy reading your magazine, but once in a while, there is a joke in poor taste. In this issue, I found “Tapping into Fear” [about a car service driver who used to drive the hearse for the hevra kadisha] distasteful and unsavory. Please exercise discretion in future issues.
Mitzvah Man Saves the Day
We have disabled children who visit a doctor every couple of months. Since we do not have a car, these appointments are problematic. It is difficult to get there and even more difficult to come back home with children who are tired and impatient after the waiting time at the doctor’s office.
This situation turned around when we spotted the Mitzvah Man ad in Community Magazine. The first time he came himself, and since then, a volunteer takes the children to the appointment, waits there, and drives them home.
Thanks to the hesed of the Mitzvah Man, this experience has turned into a positive one, with the children much happier and more relaxed. But the Mitzvah Man did not stop there. Right before Pesah, he and a volunteer called to check if we need help preparing for the holiday.
Truly wonderful things happen thanks to the hesed of this wonderful man.