Sunday, May 8, 2016

Hold Me in Your Heart: Hillel at Brandeis, Year 1

Yesterday, our rabbi talked about the concept of "bilvavi mishkan evneh" or building a mishkan (vaguely translated as a place of spirituality or prayer) in one's heart. The point of this was to describe how each of us, as we go on our way, whether it be just for the summer or for good, will hold the community that we have built here at Brandeis in our hearts. I want to take this as my kavanah, my intention, as I get ready to leave Brandeis after my first year, but I also want to talk about the Mishkan that I have built, just as the Bible does for portion after portion. Let's see if I can make it through writing this without crying. So here's the story of my first year at Brandeis (the Jewish part, anyway). 

I grew up in a Reform Synagogue, going to Reform camp, and doing Reform youth group, so my expectations of Jewish life at Brandeis were blown out of the water when I stepped into my first shabbat dinner, but we are getting ahead of ourselves. During orientation, I visited the Hillel Open House. I don't remember much about this except for the fact that everyone was super nice. But my journey at Brandeis really began when I walked into Shabbat services for the first time this year and saw people who I recognized. We sang songs that I recognized and I don’t remember this well, but at some point in the night, I was adopted by Alyssa into BaRuCH, the Brandeis Reform Chavurah. I would say that the rest is history, but I want to talk more about it, so I won’t. My first Hillel Dinner is a blur. I don’t remember much, but I assume that Julia and Rafi stood up in front of all of us and told us what we were going to do because that's the routine.

 I then reluctantly signed up for the Hillel First Year Retreat. Abi and I got on the bus and sat and talked only to each other. I really don't remember much except for meeting the Hillel Associate Director right before she had to drive me home because I got sick. We laugh about this now. 

High Holidays are filled with the memories of Julia and I setting up the Lurias and then a bit later, the Sukkah next to Sherman. I remember the Yom Kippur breakfast with people who I didn't know all that well. Most of all during that time, I remember being so happy that I went to a school that was so culturally Jewish. I loved the fact that life got to revolve around the holidays. 

A few weeks into the school year, I went to my first Lunch and Learn—I was terrified. I had always been surrounded by Reform Jews and I didn’t know what to expect. Luckily, as many others can attest to, jokes and random questions about zombies in minyans cross denominational boundaries pretty quickly, and soon, I would look forward to Lunch and Learn and be so challenged, but at the same time, so grateful that I chose to come to a place where these kinds of conversations happen on a regular basis. The community and the friends that grew out of this group occupy an indescribable part of my life. They are the ones who I turn to when I'm down and the ones who's doors I knock on when I'm bored and just want someone to keep me company.

I'm going to skip over some things because they are important, but it's too hard for me to write about them right now and go to the creation of Havdallah Nashira, the joint havdallah event between the Conservative and Reform groups on campus(at some point I'll write about the other things, but this post is already way too long). It started out as some people from the Conservative minyan coming regularly to Reform havdallah and it grew into a solid group of people eating, talking and singing every other week. Last night, when we had our last Havdallah Nashira of the year, which concluded our last Shabbat of the year, I had to fight back tears. That's a lie, I was definitely crying, but I was trying hard not to. We sang the Shecheyanu, the prayer for beginnings and endings and I was taken back to the very first days of the semester. I have no idea how people who I didn't know nine months ago could end up as such a huge part of my life. And ultimately, I was grateful. Grateful to have this community that has taught me so much about myself. Grateful that I still have three years here, and most of all, grateful to be a Jew because the beginning of my college experience would certainly not have been nearly as incredible without Hillel at Brandeis. 

I haven't even mentioned being on BaRuCH Board which has been an adventure all on its own. I applied for Freshman Rep mostly because I was one of like two people who came to BaRuCH who weren't on board and I wanted to be a part of their crazy family. After countless services planned and frantic Facebook messages, I don't have a good way of expressing any of this in words. It's funny because this is usually a medium in which I have control, but I don't seem to right now. All I seem to be able to do is get sad and sappy and not end up writing anything that makes sense outside of my brain.

Recently, I've started spending more and more time in the Hillel Lounge. In fact, I'm sitting there as I write this. Partly because it's one of the three places on campus that I can actually do homework and partly because it feels like home. No matter who is there, they are always happy to just sit or talk about absolutely anything. There is people to get meals with, something that I didn't have before I came to Brandeis. As any of you who knew me in high school know, I spent a lot of my free time sitting in hallways, back up against the wall, watching youtube videos by myself. Not being alone is the greatest blessing that Hillel has given me. And I love every single one of the people involved in this organization for that. Thank you for being my home away from home and thank you for being my family. And thank you for making it to the end of this ridiculously long post.

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