I was born into what people describe as a Jewish bubble. I went to Jewish day care, and then Jewish school. My swimming classes were held in the Jewish Community Center in Caracas, Venezula called “Hebraica”, the place that was also the home for the school I went to since kindergarten. Every week, for about eight years, I would go to Israeli Dancing practices, and if I needed to go for a run on the treadmill I’d go to the gym in Hebraica. Whenever I wanted a place to hang out with my friends, we would go to the community center, grab lunch there in the food court and maybe go for a swim there too.
I always had kosher food handy both in Hebraica and in my school. I would have days off during Jewish holidays and I never worried about wearing my David Star with pride in the hallways of my school. After all, we were all Jewish kids.
That changed when I came to Drexel University, the day I popped the bubble that surrounded me for so long. I went from going to an all-Jewish school to a completely diversified campus, where I have friends from Kenya, Ecuador, Asia and more. I went from having a kosher food court right outside my school to traveling every now and then to the Jewish neighborhood to be able to find kosher groceries. I went from having days off during the Chagim to having to talk to all my professors to ask for extensions, change the date of the exams and excuse my absence during the holidays.
It was especially hard for me since I was raised Orthodox, and I always had Judaism surrounding me. My parents were in Philadelphia during the High Holidays, so I had no problem celebrating those. Of course, we also did Shabbat together every week. As soon as they left, I felt empty, since I felt that I had no way of being the Jewish girl I was back home.
That was until my friend Valeria introduced me to Chabad at Drexel. To be honest, I was completely nervous about going to the house. I knew no one there and I was scared that the customs were going to be way too different from the ones I had back home. I went there regardless, and I felt at home as soon as Moussia, the rabanit, brought the matzoh balls out. Since then, Chabad became my home-away-from-home and the place that makes Judaism so easy for me. I would go and bake chalah Thursday’s evenings, and some Fridays I would go early to the house and help set up the table. I even help tabling when a big event is coming up like Passover’s sedarim or Shabat 200 – a shabat dinner where 200 students came and ate traditional shabbos food.
Hillel is a great place too, if you are looking to meet people, eat good food and have activities that unify Jewish people. Both places make you feel at home and will accommodate you no matter your affiliation.
Between classes, organizations, a crazy social life and family meetings, Shabbat is my favorite day of the week. It is the day I just enjoy good homemade food with some friends and just forget about all my homework and school-chaos. Popping that bubble was one of the hardest things I have ever done, but I am glad to say that being Jewish on a campus is not as hard as I thought it would be.