Falling in and out of love with campus Judaism

Ithaca College’s Muller Chapel, which hosts the Jewish community on campus. | Via ithaca.edu

When I came to college, the first thing I did was join Hillel. I participated in a pre-semester welcome weekend designed to introduce incoming freshman to Jewish peers and foster a stronger community. I was swept off my feet. Hillel is generously endowed, or so it seemed, and the endless barbecues and pizza dinners were a big draw. I went to every event I could. I talked it up. I brought non-Jewish friends, hoping to introduce them to my world.

That world doesn’t exist anymore for me. Not only would I never bring friends to recent events, I rarely go myself. A disconnect happened between my first and second years, and I’ve had trouble placing my finger on where the break happened. It has less to do with disdain, and more to do with my greater dissatisfaction in how the American Jewish community sees spirituality, faith, and Israel.

My Judaism is not event-based. My traditions are not to be commodified. And my fasts are not usually broken with pizza. I do not observe holidays because they can be advertised with catchy, alliterative text. It’s for these reasons that I have withdrawn, and I prefer to celebrate and observe in my own fashion. But I want to address what that means for my future, because my dissatisfaction with campus Judaism is connected to issues in the greater community: namely, the fact that it is harder and harder to even have an “American Jewish community.”

Disconnects and disagreements are around every corner. To debate is one thing; to bitterly cut oneself off from meaningful discussion is another. I’ve seen my family bounce from one synagogue to the next and back again, and I myself am wary of tying myself down to a place where I will inevitably come into conflict with others who see the issues in a different light.

There are too many of these “issues.” We have conflicts over US/Israel relations. We don’t know how to address the recent wave of terror. We can’t decide between AIPAC and J Street. Do we follow the teachings of Maimonides or Ilan Pappé? It sounds like I’m writing meaningless filler content of rhetorical questions, but these are the things I grapple with daily, the problems I do not have solutions for. And if I can’t resolve these on campus, I do not know what my future as a part of this so-called American Jewish community holds. While I’ll always value the friends I made through the communities I tried to be a part of, and I don’t regret my experiences, I’ve reached an impasse in my desire to continue my association.

Above all, I’m tired of the constant efforts to make Judaism easier to stomach for outsiders. It is not our job to mix traditional foods with pizza so more people show up for an event. I don’t want to translate my Hebrew into colloquial English. “Shabbat 101” was fine at first, but sometimes our prayers need to hold weight on their own, instead of being something that requires a preface. If I am constantly justifying my reasons for prayer to others, it becomes harder for me to deal with my personal conflict of believing in their power. They don’t always need catchy tunes. That makes them easier to boil down, but “boiling down” is not what this culture needs right now.

We need to build up true spirituality, instead of making everything about event attendance. Until I resolve these and actually put in work to define my own Jewish identity, I have decided to not take part in campus Judaism.

 

Ilana Diamant is a student at Ithaca College.

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