This is so sad. Yet, not surprising. Nothing existed when I went to college either. When I entered HUC, having spent 4 years at a Hillel dominated by Conservative and Orthodox Jews, I was shocked at the attitude many of my classmates had concerning observance and ritual. Not to mention the lack of knowledge about those things. I had a wonderful Hillel experience thanks to Rabbi Gerry Serotta and our program director, whose name I am forgetting (sorry, Ms. Program Director). They were two thoughtful, active Jews who helped provide a relatively diverse experience for the Jewish students at my university. There was a very small Reform group who held Shabbat services periodically, but few of those students were active or interested in much else having to do with Hillel.
By the time I entered HUC, I was very observant and thoroughly enjoyed my lifestyle. No one mentioned to me that it was totally compatible with being an active Reform Jew; the opposite. People were shocked at the rituals I had chosen to take on, not to mention many of my classmates had no clue about the basis for those rituals and didn’t bother to engage me in a conversation about why I chose to observe them. Now, for the purposes of full disclosure during the 10 days, I’m not going to say I was all that nice about it. I’m certain I could have been more open and accepting of their choices. Not my strong point in those days. I take responsibility for that. I apologize.
The thing that was the most heartbreaking, though, was what I felt to be the rejection of me by the movement to which I had given most of my life and my soul. I was super-active in NFTY from Jr. youth group through high school. I attended a movement camp for several years and was very excited to continue my involvement in college. Then . . . nothing. I was not taken seriously by my Conservative and Orthodox fellow Hillel-ites, and there wasn’t much going on for me as a Reform Jew. By the time I got to grad school, it became clear to me that there was really no place for me in the movment as an active, thinking, observant Jew. I left HUC and completed my degree at JTS, where I had a wonderful, fulfiling experience.
The truth was, and is, I am not really a Conservative Jew. However, I was clearly not a Reform Jew. I felt rather ‘post-denominational’, and I still consider myself in that category, although I am more comfortable now in the Reform movement thanks to our amazing congregation and the ever-so-effective persuasion of my husband.
With the URJ’s removal of funding in the last year for college outreach, I challenge each of you to look into your local colleges and universities. Find out what is being offered to non-Orthodox Jewish students, if anything. Involve yourself. Adopt a student or two (or three or four!). Get your temples to extend themselves. MAKE IT HAPPEN.
Because, clearly, our movement has dropped the ball.