Growing up in a Conservative Jewish home and attending Jewish day school my entire life, it was not a question that I had to continue my deep connection to Judaism when I entered college at the University of Illinois. This year before the High Holidays, I needed to find the right place for me to connect to God while being away from my family over the holidays for the first time. The second I stepped into Illini Hillel at the Cohen Center for Jewish Life for Rosh Hashana services, I was greeted and welcomed with smiles. I felt a sense of belonging immediately.
Over Sukkot, I participated in Hillel’s “Sukkah Hop.” I had heard about it in Shabbat services the week before and, having no idea what a Sukkah Hop was, I knew I just had to stand underneath a sukkah in order to feel somewhat at home. So, I grabbed a friend and followed the older students off campus. We visited a beautiful sukkah outside of the rabbi’s home and made our own mini Sukkahs out of candy! I not only had a blast, but also once again, felt at home.
Before beginning college, I was nervous about missing Shabbat dinners at home with my family, but Hillel has made me feel comfortable and welcome. Throughout my busy weeks, I look forward to participating in the services and enjoying the Friday night dinners. It allows me to have a moment to relax, appreciate and reflect on my past week. Without Hebrew and Bible studies every day, as I performed in high school, Hillel allows me to have the space of personal Judaism and a connection to God. It gives me the communal Judaism I know I belong in, without being at my temple at home with my family.
I now continue to go to Hillel for Shabbat services and dinner every Friday night. I love the music, singing, connections and sense of community I receive there.