Religion is an odd topic for me. People are shocked, at first, to learn that I am Jewish. With a last name like Feinstein, I find their delayed reactions to be quite amusing. When it comes to religion, I have always hopped around and changed my views on my faith. At first, I would celebrate holidays mainly because my parents told me to. Growing into high school, however, I became quite distant when it came to religion. This cascaded into freshmen year of college, at my previous university, where I did my best to push Judaism as far away from me as possible. I felt like religion wasn’t fair. I didn’t want to follow a religion just because my parents raised me to learn about it. Where is the real choice in that? This period of my life was followed by some atheistic values as I began to question whether or not there actually was a God and if there was, why would the Creator of All allow pain and suffering to exist in our world? It wasn’t until sophomore year of college that my prejudices seemed to fade away.
Sophomore year was hard for me. Things were very different and most of my closer friends were abroad. At the very beginning of the year, I was faced with a choice that I am expected to make every September: Should I partake in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services? Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the two most important Jewish holidays. Rosh Hashanah is the start of the New Year while Yom Kippur basically seals the deal. The time between the two holidays is used to repent as God decides whether you’ll live or die, remain poor or become rich, fall to sickness or maintain health. During sophomore year, for the first time in my life, I made the choice to attend services. This was different than when I was a kid and my parents brought me to services. This time, I was the one making the decision and I was going for myself and no one else.
Surprisingly, the choice to go to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services began a chain reaction; I loved going to the services and I wanted more. I began to participate in my university’s Hillel and going to our Friday Shabbat services. Through meetings, Shabbat, and various holidays throughout the year, I began to develop close relationships with the other Jews and non-Jews who attended Hillel, eventually growing an interest for interfaith that I had never previously experienced.
As I transferred to Arcadia, I knew I wanted to be involved in Hillel even if it was slight. I have been trying to plan a Birthright trip with my sister lately and I knew the best way to start would be through Arcadia’s Hillel. Though it was a slow start for me, I eventually put my name down on the e-mail list and forced myself to go to at least one Shabbat service. I was struck with a pleasant surprise as I felt quite welcomed during our Shabbat service. Throughout our songs, prayers, and makeshift, very “college” potluck dinner, I felt at home. By the end of the service, the secretary of Hillel invited me and the others to dinner further in the week and to attend Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services at her home Synagogue.
I attended services for the two holidays alongside the Hillel secretary and two other students from Arcadia, one Jewish and the other not. I felt honored to attend dinner with our secretary’s family and the other students. Though I was originally afraid it would be awkward, I was more than pleased to find that was not the case. We were welcomed in with open arms and I felt completely natural. That’s one thing I adore about Judaism; once you find other people who are from the Jewish community, you are immediately embraced with a sense of welcomeness. Services were long, but worth attending and by the end of them, I was met with the familiar sense of nostalgia, pondering, and spiritual curiosity.
Since the success of my Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I have done my best to attend Arcadia’s Hillel for other holidays and events, such as Sukkot and our monthly Shabbat services. Personally, I still don’t know where I lie on the spectrum of Judaic beliefs. I’m not entirely sure what I believe or why, but it truly is incredible to be part of the Arcadia Jewish community with people who I know will support me in making these discoveries.