My mom, a feminista escapee of Revolutionary Iran, always insists that I “have fun” in college. And she’s not the only one: we’ve all heard that college is a time to “experiment.” Many of us do, or at least have friends who do. I would argue that all of us experiment in college, by virtue of being in a new place with new people, with many of us on our own for the first time.
Yet we should admit that our definition of “experimentation” often boils down to sex and drugs. And though I doubt that Mom was instructing me to seek out Yale’s elusive nude parties, I think she at least meant that I should enjoy my youth in the classic American way: the way of crowded parties, insobriety and a roller coaster ride of irresponsible fun.
Instead, I turned to religion. Which one, you ask? Judaism!
The first practice I picked up was keeping the Sabbath, or Shabbat. On Friday evening through Saturday evening, I don’t use electronics — besides a reluctant key-card swipe into my dorm. Of course, there are other Shabbat practices missing from here, but ditching my phone and going work-free are the most notable shifts. I’ve since found that I love the “day of rest.” Once, I had an assignment due Friday night, and my friend typed it up as I narrated my answer aloud. Another time, I was walking back from a Shabbat meal and ran into a friend. With nothing better to do, I accompanied her to the grocery store.
I also read and slept a lot, in the spirit of the holy day. When I had things to do or attend, I wrote them all down on a piece of paper in advance — locations, times and other necessary details included. I even downloaded an app on my phone that sets off limited-time alarms so that I can keep up with a routine. Honestly, Shabbat is a blast. An entire day of rest, no work allowed, is truly cleansing. Especially in the hectic craze that college often turns out to be.
Another interesting aspect of Judaism is modest dress: long skirts, long sleeves. Since middle school, largely thanks to social media, I had learned that my body wasn’t worthy of love. It needed to be slimmer here and wider there — anything other than what it presently was. But the common feminine experience of comparing our bodies’ shapes and sizes has slowly dissipated in my life, since I less often have to worry about who sees me, and what they see. My friends pass no judgment, and I rarely feel left out, though I miss some outfits here and there.
One tradition, that I’ll only touch on briefly, is not dancing with members of the opposite sex, which I admittedly practice sporadically. At my roommate’s birthday party, I stood on the sidelines with a friend and said, “no mixed dancing — it’s the Sabbath!” “That’s so racist!” he said, thinking I meant mixed-race dancing. Only after correcting him aggressively did I burst into laughter. On a more serious note, I will add that, just like with modest dress, I feel much less self-conscious dancing in privacy or among women who don’t objectify me.
My last, and my friends’ favorite of the practices listed, is giving up men entirely — until I’m looking to be married! We’ve coined the first two seasons of the year “abstinence autumn” and “one-woman winter,” though we’re unsure what to call spring and summer. This sort of self-denial is especially hard in college, coming from an already secular background. But I’ve found life to be much neater without an SO. I really can focus and work on myself. And when I do develop crushes, which are unavoidable, I deem them distractions and move on in due time. My peers admire me for it and consider it discipline, and none of my friendships wind up crushed by temptation. A challenge, but a blessing. I’ve made so many hot, platonic friends!
In short, I’ve fallen in love with the traditional practices of my religion. I feel secure and stable, much-needed feelings for college freshmen. By no means am I proselytizing; Jews don’t do that. All I’m saying is that the college experiment can mean many different things, and it’s hard to tell which way works best. Fortunately, we have four years at Yale — and the rest of our lives — to find out.
SAHAR TARTAK is a first year in Pierson College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.