It’s uncommon that the voice of a lone student is heard above the noise occurring in today’s market place of ideas. Here is one of those voices. I hope in the future to share more such voices.
Since arriving at Brandeis three years ago, I was reluctant to join a religious community on or off campus. I grew up in an inclusive Reconstructionist shul full of music, social justice, and community support. I knew what I wanted in a religious community, and I was very reluctant to venture outside of my type of Judaism. I found a home in the Reconstructionist services on campus and, although I was frequently invited to join a Chabad or Hillel dinner, I thought a Jew like me would never be welcome in that environment.
This fall, Chabad at Brandeis held Mega Shabbat, a community dinner for several hundreds of Brandeis students, Jews and non-Jews alike. I had not been to a Chabad dinner in two years, but since several of my friends were going and my sorority was co-sponsoring the event, I decided to set aside my preconceived notions and enter the space with an open mind. I knew I would be participating in a more traditional dinner than the ones I was used to, and that scared me. What if I felt uncomfortable? What if I didn’t know the prayers? What if someone said I didn’t belong?
As soon as I arrived in Levin Ballroom, I knew everything I had previously judged this space to be was wrong. I was welcomed with love by Chabad student leaders and Chanie and Peretz. I saw my peers around me who belonged to all different denominations of Judaism, from secular humanist to modern Orthodox. I spoke with many students who came from other religious backgrounds who had never been to a Shabbat dinner before. During the dinner, Chanie and Peretz along with Deena and Joey, the two student presidents of Chabad, took the time to explain the tradition of Shabbat. They explained the meaning of every prayer prior to beginning it, and they consciously chose a Siddur (prayer book) that had both English translation and Hebrew transliteration, to be accessible to all.
Even though the prayer leaders came from different denominations than me, I felt so accommodated and welcomed. When Chanie explained the candle lighting, she noted that the candle lighting, although traditionally performed by women, was not exclusive to women, and that everyone could light them together in the spirit of Shabbat. Peretz spoke about the joy in tuning out the noise around us during Shabbat and taking time to rest and recharge from our busy world with our loved ones. I felt touched by his message. It wasn’t politically charged or designed to push individuals towards or away from religion; it was human.
Mega Shabbat helped me see that, even if I don’t always know the practices or traditions of other Jewish sects, I am always welcomed as a member of the larger Brandeis community. I have kept this sentiment in my head and heart during the high holidays, when I reminded myself that even my own inclusivity can sometimes be judgmental. I am grateful for my Mega Shabbat experience for showing me that all pre-judgements can be wrong, and that, at Brandeis, our communities are loving to all.