Every fall, we experience the confluence of the beginning of the academic and Jewish years.
In college, starting a new academic year often means moving away from home and onto campus. You're setting up your space, getting used to a new schedule, navigating relationships that have been on a summer pause, and getting inundated with new faces and possibilities. You have new classes and teachers, maybe a new job, and sometimes even new interests.
This might seem overwhelming, but the questions we ask ourselves at the beginning of the Jewish year can help you chart a path forward:
As you prepare for the holidays, there are ways to ready yourself for answers. In the Jewish calendar, the month of Elul precedes the holidays. During Elul, it is tradition to hear the sound of the shofar every day. Imagine if you had an alarm set on your phone each morning, blaring at you that the new year is about to begin!
We wake ourselves up with the shofar, and this calls our attention to the fact that something big is coming. It's a countdown to the "Day of Judgment." This is your reminder to reflect on your actions in the year that is concluding--and reach out and ask forgiveness from the people you might have wronged. You get to intentionally close one chapter of your life and open the next.
I have a few other practices I encourage students to do, that you can do anywhere--at home or away. You can set personal, academic, and professional goals; reconnect with the people who really matter in your life; read books and watch movies about the themes of the holidays; and arrange your space in a way that makes you feel focused and effective.
Then, ready or not, the High Holidays arrive. Do yourself a favor and think at least a week in advance about where, what, and with whom you want to be. I can pretty much guarantee that the experience of celebrating the High Holidays on campus will be different from celebrating at home.
For many of us, at home, decisions are made by our parents--but in college it's up to you. Do you go to services or not? Do you eat holiday meals or not? Where do you celebrate, and with whom? It's okay to make choices that connect you to what is familiar--and choices that take you into new territory.
If you go to services and meals at Hillel, you will encounter people who come from such a wide variety of experiences that it can't possibly be just like home for everyone. You might really miss a particular melody or food item that you didn't even realize were important to you until they were missing. This can be difficult, and it's a great opportunity to explore what works for you spiritually and ritually. Hop around to different services if you want! Follow a friend who has a different background or invite a friend to come along with you.
Most importantly, check in with yourself and with a friend or mentor to discuss what works for you and what doesn't, to explore what you are learning and how you are feeling. And don't forget to call home (or at least text) to say
(Happy New Year) to your family!
Rabbi Jessica Lott is the Campus Rabbi of Northwestern Hillel.