Despite the doom and gloom of recent studies, there is a powerful resurgence in Jewish involvement on campus. Young people are being educated, inspired, and empowered. Blink and they are quite literally the leaders of tomorrow; voices of truth in a world of moral confusion.
What is behind their passion, drive and ultimate success?
By understanding where their strength comes from, we can further support their endeavors and their successes- both in the material and spiritual arenas.
I’d say it boils down to two components:
First, openness to ideas with the fire and passion of youth. At this crucial time in their lives, when people are evolving with their life choices, there is an openness to ideas that stems from the fire and passion of youth. Before one might become jaded by the inevitable pain and stresses that decades of responsibilities bring, we are open to new possibilities, new ways of living, and to explore our spiritual heritage and our standards of decency and loyalty. Perhaps there is no more potent opportunity than at this impressionable and important stage.
Next is live teachers. Nothing maximizes one’s experience of learning new information like absorbing it from a teacher who embodies the subject material, and in the Jewish world it is no different. The perpetuation of Judaism has always, in every single generation, relied on the conveyance of teachings from live teachers. With all the information we have right at our fingertips (perhaps because of the overwhelming flood of information we have right at our fingertips), we once again rely on live teachers, living examples, more than ever, to bring the information off the screen and into real life.
This is an area in which Chabad excels. The Chabad Rabbis and Rebbetzins on campus don’t simply talk of clarity and decency- they live it. They are patient with all kinds of people…remain principled and consistent in their Judaism despite often-difficult circumstances…give up the privacy of a family meal for the sake of sharing the festive experience with large numbers of Jews…all with their legendary love and unbridled joy.
And sensing their genuineness, the students gravitate to their services and lectures, because they know that they are always embraced not for what they do or what they think…but because of who they are- a precious soul with an indispensable mission and destiny, deserving of time and attention.
It is a non-judgmental learning environment. Chabad on Campus fills their spiritual need so magnificently, because it doesn’t entail simply learning in the traditional sense. It entails the friendship and support from a warm Rabbi who is constantly on campus like a long-time, loyal friend. It entails a Rebbetzin who fills a senior’s life with meaning as she prepares to enter an often cut-throat, ruthless world. It entails long conversations at their social events, Shabbos tables, homes…It entails a living, heart-to-heart Judaism
In response to these genuine teacher Rabbis and Rebbetzins, coupled with the students’ youthful energy and openness and receptiveness, there is a spiritual response: A young woman begins lighting Shabbat candles. A young man finds a Rabbi with whom he feels safe to ask questions about faith. Hundreds of students attend a Pesach Seder for the first time. A graduate has the tools to tap into deep spiritual truths to carry her through a time of sadness and sorrow. The alumni get married and then teach their sons and daughters the very same Jewish values that were taught to them…
In a very dark world, one that seems to be getting darker by the minute, these Chabad Rabbis and Rebbetzins are acting as true teachers and torch-bearers, living with an unapologetic Jewish pride. They illuminate our children, so that they in turn can illuminate others.
The needs of Am Yisrael are great but together we can make the difference, revealing, celebrating the pure flask of oil that is in every Jewish student, cultivating their passion for Judaism and our beloved Israel. May we all have much continued success in igniting the souls of Judaism’s future.