Balancing Judaism and College

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This piece was written by Stephanie Kallish, former USY International Israel Affairs VP. 

The summer before my first year at Brandeis University, I was frequently asked “What are you most excited for about starting college”? My response was always that I was most excited for Jewish life on campus. My experience as a USY leader in the height of the pandemic has taught me the true value of the in-person Jewish experience, and I was deeply craving the feeling of davening, experiencing Shabbat, and learning with my peers. I was also excited to explore my own relationship to Judaism and take on different traditions that are important to me but were difficult for me to do at home. Before arriving at Brandeis, I expected to find answers about my Jewish identity. However, since completing my freshman year, I now have even more questions. 

For me, the transition to college has been all about balance. In addition to the typical balances that all college students must find, like the balance between academics and extracurriculars, college has taught me a lot about balance in my Jewish life. The Brandeis community has so many Jewish opportunities, minyanim, and spaces to learn and grow. I have learned to balance things that were familiar to me with things that are new. I have learned that I can experiment and try new ways of practicing Judaism without leaving what I have learned from home behind. I have learned that Jewish practice can be nuanced, complicated and messy, and that I can subscribe to multiple ways of living Jewishly. 

I have also been able to focus on and grapple with identities and values that are important to me. My involvement with the Jewish Feminist Association at Brandeis has exposed me to so many different women who define their feminism and its intersectionality with Judaism in diverse ways. I have found a home in the Brandeis Beit Midrash, as I have begun putting a greater emphasis on Torah learning in my life. Additionally, I have encountered many important role models who are also finding their Jewish identity, ranging from Masorti’s incredible JTS Rabbinical intern, to one of my Modern Orthodox professors. 

The transition from high school to college is not easy. Being alone in a new place, especially in the wake of the pandemic is challenging. However, once I took the pressure off to ‘figure myself out’, I found that the transition got a lot easier. There is so much pressure for incoming college students to dramatically change or find their ‘true selves’. This pressure is unreasonable because whatever personal growth and change is meant to occur, will happen naturally. While I may not have all the answers of who I am Jewishly, I realize now that it will take way more than four years to figure that out. I don’t need a label or definition for my Jewish practice to be authentic, real and true to who I am.  For me, there is no better place than Brandeis to experience the beauties of pluralism, community, and passion for Jewish life. I am looking forward to another three years of not necessarily finding answers, but of finding personal meaning and joy in Judaism.  

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