Attention world. I know that, statistically, most of you probably live in New England, New York, or New Jersey. I know that because all the interesting synagogues and most of the independent minyanim are up there. I also know that because there are yeshivas and seminaries and Jewish day schools there. If you don’t have a kosher restaurant in your town, well you probably have a kosher section in your grocery store with food that’s not actually expired (true story). All the cool conferences and institutes are there, as are all the classes and secret parties and flashmobs. You want free walk-in High Holy Days services? All-Hebrew summer camp? You’re there, man. And you don’t have to drive ten hours to get there.
I lived in Chicago for a year starting when I was seventeen, so I know the pros and cons of living in the city (the cons are few, just FYI). You don’t really think about how fortunate you are when Expedia lists your city on their “my dates are flexible (popular routes only)” option! This says it all—I could be flexible when I lived in Chicago!—here, I have to settle for what I can get (which in the airplane department is a really teeny airport with extremely expensive flights). I knew [insert any band here] would be coming to Chicago. I could distribute records with my friend and he could get totally famous there. I could find a job on Craigslist and walk in to apply an hour later. You want to be flexible and a musician, hey move to Chicago.
You want to be flexible and Jewish? Hey move to New England. This is starting to keep me up at night. I was just thrust into reality (for the second time; the first was realizing that JTS and YU pretty much threw up my applications and somehow I knew I wouldn’t be living in New York for a while), when I realized that attending the NHC Summer Institute would cost me upwards of $1,000+ (the airplane ticket to Manchester, NH being $250). I decided to go to the closest alternative instead, the Chesapeake one. But I realized even that one—the closest one—is four hours by car and seven by train. Behold: I can’t go to the JOFA conference either, for the same reasons (note that most of their campus fellowship recipients go to New England schools; two are from major midwestern cities).
I can’t convert to Orthodoxy either. I called an RCA rabbi who stopped writing back to my emails after it became clear I could never actually go to Washington, DC to meet him. And anyway, I won’t be living near an Orthodox synagogue for a while. (It’s still a mystery as to whether I could convert even to Conservative. I’ll likely have to have a mishmash beit din, consisting of whomever I think violates Shabbat the least, and hope for the best). It’s just not practical. It’s much more practical to stay here and fight from without.
That means a focused attack—William & Mary Hillel, I’m looking at you! Prepare to duel this fall!
Luckily, there is a synagogue across the street from the campus, even though it’s not really my speed (as I enjoy yeshiva-style speed-mumbling and not clapping or “humming to oneself“). However, I’ve decided to infiltrate and accordingly I’ve decided to try to start a parallel minyan. I think I already know one member, a guy who I suspect was just excited to meet someone who also wasn’t into the clapping. That’s two already; I mean that’s pretty good so far. Especially since I don’t actually care that much if I come up with ten people—I may possibly be the only one who could read Torah, and who wants the hassle? If the rabbi doesn’t want Shabbat competition (which is weird but fine), it’s a good thing I find the prospect of holding a weekday minyan every morning rather enticing, in an adventurous sort of way.
Besides such ambitious endeavors, I’ve also decided to run for the Officer of Religious Affairs for the Hillel that I’ve never been to yet. The description makes it sound like it involves overseeing kashrut and other things I don’t think anyone else wants to do (but who knows). Finally, I’ve decided there is a dearth of non-Christian religious activities on the campus that I’ve only been to twice, and I might just have to start an inter-religious magazine.
It doesn’t actually matter if none of these things take, because I learned from starting a Philosophy Club in community college that colleges will let you do just about anything like that.
So I don’t live in New England—nay, I’ll be living in Colonial Williamsburg—but I’m going to make it work. Because probably no one else has done it here before.