Jewish Holidays at college never happen quite the way you expect them to. You are supposed to pray with people you have never prayed with before, and who are all expecting different styles of service. At my college, classes are not even canceled for Yom Kippur, so students have to make the choice between attending classes or observing the holiday. I decided to observe the holiday, however, between having to email my Professors with excuses, get notes from classmates and thinking about all the homework that would pile up, it was hard to keep my mind on repentance instead of stress.
On the eve of Yom Kippur, after having eaten my final meal, I walked to services, dressed up in my finest. I felt a bit self conscious as I got looks from jeans and sweatpants-clad passerbys. As I approached the location for the services, I saw only a few other people dressed up. I entered the sanctuary, which was an auditorium commonly used for large lectures. It felt a bit strange to pray in a place where Professors had been lecturing just hours earlier.
After services, as I walked back to my apartment, I saw a Jewish girl from one of my classes eating a cookie. She stared intently at the ground, careful not to meet my gaze. Music blasted from bars, and a group of drunk boys were laughing loudly.
Right before falling asleep that night, I thought back to the summer I had spent in Jerusalem. How I had felt walking the streets of the city on a particularly hot day in July. It was my first time fasting for Tisha B’Av. As I walked towards my apartment, the sweet doughy scent from the bakery on King George street tempted me. I enviously watched a group of teenage girls enjoying muffins and smoothies. I felt angry, at how the bakery dared being open on this day, when we were remembering the destruction of our Holy Temple, just a 20 minute walk down Jaffo street from that very bakery.
But as I looked away, I briefly locked eyes with a woman, hair covered and in a floor length black skirt, who was pushing two strollers full of kids. She nodded at me, and then went back to trying to calm down her children. Looking up again, I suddenly thought that I could see the hunger in many of my fellow passerby’s eyes. A tired glance, bordering on smug, was exchanged when I passed someone else who was presumably fasting.
The memory from the summer remained in the back of my head when I woke up the next morning. At one point during services, I felt quite sick and went outside, and several people who were walking in and out of services stayed with me and checked up on me. As my nausea subsided and I reentered the lecture hall-turned-synagogue, I felt reenergized by hearing the voices of my fellow students in prayer.
That night, after the break fast, as we sat inside the kosher dining hall, crowded around a couple of tables, I felt a sense of unity. Outside, people were heading off to the gym or to the first party of the night. Inside, we sat, dressed up in dresses and suits, laughing over how quickly we had devoured the less than mediocre meal. Yes, the crowd was small and that night I would have to stay up late to finish the missed homework, but at that moment I did not feel smug or disappointed, instead I was filled with pride and faith in the Jewish community.