One of the hallmarks of the college experience is its liminal nature. College is fraught with unknowns, but it is certain that we will one day no longer be undergraduates. We carry that knowledge as we build lives at Yale; some of the things we learn and the friends we make will stay with us, but we know that there will be people we see regularly and rituals that mark our days that we’ll abandon when we leave New Haven. This knowledge affects the commitments we make in school and how we view the choices we make about what to invest ourselves in.
It’s tempting, with the short timeline of the Yale experience looming in our minds, to treat college as a purely transitory period. We are not children with others structuring our lives outside of our control, but we are also not adults with total agency to focus on what we want most. The in-between and temporary nature of college makes it easy to assume that nothing we do here matters in “real life,” both in terms of the future and in terms of things that, in the present, have deep significance.
But religion is in both senses “real life,” and it is something we Yalies often dismiss as the domain of children or adults older than we are. However, the bright college years have the potential to be religiously fruitful, both despite and because of their brevity.
College is, in our collective secular imagination, an opportunity to shed the benighted views of our parents and hometowns in exchange for participation in a sophisticated intellectual community. Arriving on campus, undergrads are free of the religious strictures of home, able instead to “explore.”
But my experiences and those of so many Yalies I have encountered belie that narrative. On campus, I have learned what it means to be an adult in a religious community, and how to make life choices that reflect my commitments to Jewish history and community and to God. I have met scores of people whose experiences and relationships at Yale have pushed them to contemplate the divine and build deep connections within communities of worship. This too is the “college experience.”
The Jewish community at Yale is very much my home on campus, and home is hard. In my two years here, I have led prayers and taught Torah, moved chairs and bought snacks and yelled at the same people I pray with in meetings about what kind of community we want to be creating. In between these moments, there have been quiet (and loud) conversations about character, justice and transcendence. There has been prayer and study and ritual. Stepping back, I have built a religious life here.
So many of these things are things I watched my parents do as a child, and I suddenly find myself in their roles. One of the opportunities of campus religion is that we are the grown-ups: We lead and organize and teach and pray, and we do those things exactly how we want to. In working with others to create and live in communities that attempt to serve God and each other, we can discover what that looks like.
It’s tempting to abandon thinking about the eternal in college, at least outside the classroom, and savor the feeling of freedom this can offer. Yet the “exploration” we do in college can be about the kinds of people we want to be and the kinds of people we want to live with. Commitment, too, can be new and exciting and revelatory.
Our transitory communities have the potential for transcendence.
Avigayil Halpern is a junior in Silliman College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .