When I first began my college search, or perhaps it’s better to say when my mother started suggestively leaving college pamphlets on my desk, I refused to acknowledge a life after high school. The prospect of recreating myself and re-establishing my Jewish identity in a foreign environment frightened me enormously, but I needn’t have worried. Little did I know that the school I chose–Knox College–which lay nestled in the heart of a sleepy railroad town called Galesburg, Illinois, would turn out to have a steady Jewish pulse.
I was not expecting much from Temple Sholom. From the outside, it struck me as bland; just a plain beige building, with nothing distinguishing it as an establishment of any sort–much less a religious one–other than the unremarkable sign stuck in the ground. But upon entering the building, I was filled with the sense of awe that one feels when they glimpse a sunrise for the first time: that humbling smallness and wonder that fills every cell in your body. This is not to say that the interior was more beautiful than the exterior, because it was not. But love and spirituality blazed from the building’s very foundations. Never for a moment did I feel awkward or out of place in this new space. All forty members greeted each other with genuine New Year’s salutations, kissing and laughing as though they were family. To my delight, they greeted us college students similarly, like old friends, and made sure that we got good seats by the Bimah.
Services were wonderful and moving. Available were packets of all the evening’s prayers, transliterated, so that those who had never learned Hebrew would not be excluded from the night’s prayer. The rabbi delivered a stirring and humorous sermon and assured us college students that we were always welcome back. I left that night having found my place in a Jewish community I never knew existed.