Sunlit Water

September 22, 2006

Unhappy New Year

Filed under: Culture,Personal — by teofilo @ 8:55 pm

I went to Rosh Hashanah services this evening.  These days my practice of Judaism is essentially limited to High Holiday services and the Seder, and whenever I go to services I remember why.  It’s always kind of comforting to do something familiar, but I have very little in common with most of the Jewish people at my school, especially the ones who are active in Jewish groups.  The Jewish community here is very closely tied to the fraternities and sororities, so it’s largely those people at services and the like; I don’t have any overall problem with the Greek system, and I know some fratboys and sorority sisters who I like a lot, but I don’t feel very comfortable in that kind of environment.  It’s just not my thing.

On top of that, the Jewish people here are largely part of the whole preprofessional vibe of the place; they come from wealthy suburbs and are destined to go on to things like investment banking and law school, with their undergraduate years mostly devoted to getting drunk and complaining a lot.  Obviously not everyone here is like that, but a lot of people are and the Jewish community has a disproportionate number of them (as does the Greek system).

And on top of all that, there’s the sermons.  Some rabbis are great scholars and give interesting, thoughtful sermons; campus rabbis do not tend to be among them.  Ours hasn’t been so bad in previous years, when he mostly talked about how we should strive to be good people and stuff like that, but this time he was all over the gratuitous Iran-bashing and I was sitting there wondering if I should walk out.  I didn’t, but I still wasn’t too pleased.

It’s stuff like that that really makes me wonder if there’s any point in keeping up with even the marginal level of observance I’m at now.  It’s tough, because while I do like participating in the rituals, they’re communal by nature and I don’t much care for the other people around me.  It’s not the sort of thing I can just go off and do on my own.  I’ll keep it up–this is my last year and there isn’t much more to it–but I’m really not feeling very happy about it.

This is a tough time to be Jewish in this country; all the turmoil in the Middle East leads to circle-the-wagons responses in the Jewish community, and I just want no part of any of it.  But I do feel like I should keep it up, if only to demonstrate to myself and anyone else who’s paying attention that this is not all there is to Judaism.



  1. In my experience, even a small shift in the community can restore that communal sense that you’re talking about. So I’d agree about hanging in there. Soon enough there will be a little shift (geographic, institutional, etc.) and you’ll find a handful of kindred spirits; meantime, the practice itself is not just an expression of faith but an affirmation of your brand of humanity.

    Comment by Witt — September 22, 2006 @ 10:33 pm |Reply

  2. Yeah, that’s pretty much how I see it. I think my main problem right now is that I just don’t fit in well with the campus Jewish community, but it’s my only practical option to keep practicing. Once I graduate and move somewhere else I’ll probably find a congregation more to my tastes.

    Comment by teofilo — September 22, 2006 @ 10:42 pm |Reply

  3. My wife and I attend high holiday services at the local Hillel because we don’t belong to a congregation. Every year we find the services, especially the sermon, a hit or miss affair.

    It’s especially hard not knowing anyone (or at least not being friends with anyone) in the congregation. I definitely miss the experience of belonging to the community, not just participating in it. I need more Jewish friends.

    Anyway, just musing along with you. L’shanah tovah!

    Comment by mrh — September 22, 2006 @ 10:59 pm |Reply

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