I Don’t Go To Hillel Services, and That’s Okay

When I was first applying to colleges, my parents set a few qualifications for the place that I would ultimately choose. Number one, my future college could be no more than three hours away by plane. Number two, its closet airport had to have direct flights back home to Baltimore. And number three, it had to have a Hillel house. Luckily, the college I fell in love with fit all of those qualifications. But, well into my senior year at my top school, I’m afraid to say that I have not been taking advantage of the opportunities that Kenyon has offered me, specifically in the form of its Hillel House.

Early fall is one of the most significant times of year in the Jewish calendar. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish New Year and the Day of Repentence, occur in succession, and Sukkot, the fall harvest festival, is celebrated only a few weeks after. But this fall, I have not gone to a single High Holy Day service at Hillel.

I do not come from an extremely religious family. We never went to synagogue regularly, but we always gathered together and attended services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. So that’s what, to my family, a college’s Hillel House is there for. I am never expected to attend Shabbat services every weekend, cook in its kosher kitchen, or even fast during Yom Kippur, but I am expected to attend services during the High Holy Days when I am away from home, my family, and my synagogue.

I went to services my first two years at Kenyon. I actually went to Hillel programming quite regularly during the first semester of my freshman year. I was having some trouble finding a solid group of friends (as many freshmen do), and a lot of my older friends from back home advised me to try to find my niche at Hillel.

The problem was, though I kept attending Hillel’s events, I never felt completely at home there. This is in no way an attack on the Hillel House or Jewish community at Kenyon as a whole. I know a lot of people at Kenyon who have felt completely welcomed by Hillel and continue to take advantage of its programming. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here, but something about Hillel events felt awkward and forced to me. I got the same feeling when I went to the occasional Hillel event during my sophomore and junior years, after I had made a bunch of friends on my own. I somehow felt that I was just a number, one of the “Jewish kids at Kenyon.” We could bond together based on our similar faith and upbringing, but that was about it.

I grew up going to a Jewish summer camp, and I was a member of a Jewish youth group for a few years in high school. I was even voted “Class Jew” on the senior superlative page in my high school yearbook. Being Jewish has been a part of my identity for so long, and that’s why it’s sad to me that I am in no way celebrating my Jewishness during this holiday season, and I’m sure that my family is a tad bit disappointed in me.

My abandonment of Hillel and its programming does raise some questions for the future. I am a senior now, and I expect to graduate, find a job, and eventually move out of my parents’ house. If I move to a new place, will I find a synagogue to belong to? Will I become active in the Jewish community in other ways? And if I don’t do either of those things, will I still be Jewish?

The answer is, of course, yes. I don’t have to go to services to identify as a Jew. On the eve of Rosh Hashanah (because we mark the beginning of celebrations at sunset), I reflected for a bit on the past year, just like every other Jew who attended a service. And I know that I will think about my past wrongdoings when Yom Kippur rolls around. Just because I did not find my Jewish community at Kenyon as easily as I did back home does not mean that I lost my Jewishness. I hope to keep that part of my identity for many years to come.


Image credits: myjewishlearning.com and toriavey.com