How would I find my place? These were the words spinning through my mind the summer before I started my freshman year at a school of more than 40,000 students. I was scared, intimidated, nervous — I was a mess. Sure, I graduated from a high school of a mere four thousand students — how would I survive this?
My first Shabbat on campus was the first week of school during Welcome Week. My roommate and I texted all of our friends, inviting them to come to Shabbat with us at Hillel. We would meet promptly at 6 outside of the dining hall and walk together to Hillel. Getting ready was both fun and exciting. It brought back memories from the summer when I would get ready for Shabbat at camp: braiding my campers’ hair, surviving the lack of AC, and taking Shabbat pictures with my campers. Soon enough, 6:00 came and outside of the dining hall a group of 15 students waited, anxiously excited for our first Shabbat on campus — our first Shabbat together as young adults.
Walking over to Hillel instantly brought me back to my summers before in Jerusalem; walking with so many Jewish students reminded me of migrating to the Wall on the eve of Shabbat. There was something special in the air. I couldn’t name it at first — then it hit me: the Shabbat spirit.
We arrived at the steps of Hillel, the Jerusalem limestone-covered building resembling the streets of my homeland. Leading the group of students, I stepped inside.
It was there that something happened: I found my community. I found my place. I found my Home away from Home.
There is a certain vibe that solely exists at Hillel; it’s warm … welcoming. You can see it — feel it — only when you are there. You see the friends catching up on their busy weeks, the staff going the extra mile to truly meet and get to know the new students, local families introducing their young ones to Judaism and Shabbat … You see it all. You see the smiles on faces, happiness in the eyes, joy in the laughter, and love in their care. And you know, just standing there in the entryway of the building, that they want you here. They want you to experience it too.
They want you to experience coming to Bagel Brunch on Sunday morning, bonding with friends over bagels and lox. They want you to experience giving the Hamotzi during Shabbat dinner. They want you to experience studying — and snacking—in the Sukkah for midterms. They want you to experience eating s’mores on the deck with the freshman class. They want you to experience driving three hours to crash a Hillel staff member’s wedding. They want you to experience the Hillel Director reaching out to you to see how Hillel can enrich your college years.
All of this makes up the Hillel experience. Hillel is welcoming you Home.