For many Jewish college freshmen, this will probably be the first time you are celebrating the High Holidays away from home. Many schools, mine included, still have classes during Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur. It is definitely a big change from observing these big days at home. You can bet your laundry money that your dining hall won’t be providing lox and a shmear to break the fast, but that shouldn’t stop you from experiencing these days in a way that makes your feel comfortable.
Here are some tips to make your holidays away from home as enjoyable as possible. (This doesn’t just apply to Jewish students – every student can find the right balance between religion, relationships, classes, activities, and a part-time job.)
First and foremost, talk to your professors if you plan on missing a class because you are observing a religious holiday. My freshman year I had a foreign professor that refused to excuse me from his 1-credit seminar class because of Yom Kippur. I was intimidated but my parents (typical Jewish mother syndrome) convinced me to talk to my advisor right away. He was made aware of the situation from day 1 and it became a non-issue. Your university should have a policy stating religious discrimination is unacceptable. Do your research just in case a similar situation arises.
Seek out student organizations geared to your religious affiliation. Hillel and Chabad are great places to spend the High Holy Days if you are Jewish. Penn State Hillel, for instance, provides a home-cooked meal every Friday night after services – a big improvement over the dining hall food. The students involved in these groups have created a balance in their lives and they can advise you how to do the same. You already all have something in common. You can compare how many times a day your Mom has called or share stories about your yearly winter vacations to visit Grandma in Florida. Who knows… you will probably be able to find someone who went to the same sleepaway camp as you did (the Six Degrees of Jewish Separation is no joke).
Bring the holidays to you and your friends. If you live in a dorm, order chicken noodle soup from a local deli and share with your roommates. Plan your own festive meal. Teach your Gentile friends about the importance of rye bread and good bagels. You can be extremely adventurous if you have your own kitchen and make your own “Jew Food.”
By the time the High Holidays roll around, everyone’s going to be so sick of Ramen and late-night Easy Mac that they’ll think matzo balls are better than sliced bread. Which, as any Jew knows, they totally are. Unless that bread is challah. Yum.