• Ben Jacobson

First Steps: Being Outwardly Jewish On-Campus

My ethnicity, religion, and encompassing being. When I walk in the halls of my dorm it is the first thing my new classmates see. I change my kippa/yarmulka every day to keep things interesting. From a sruga, to traditional, to Chabad and everything in between, the 20 kippot I brought to campus represent my varying perspectives on the world.

When I first stepped onto Clark University’s campus a mere two weeks ago, I knew I would be noticed; however, I could not have imagined I would be singled out as much as I have been. I’ve chosen three examples to help you visualize what I mean.

Last week I was walking on the streets of Worcester with a friend where suddenly one middle-aged man screams out of his car “What’s that thing on your head?” I said, “It’s a yarmulka, I’m Jewish!” Proud doesn’t even being to represent the feeling I have over my Judaism. When I was younger, I wanted to join the Israeli Defense Forces, while I no longer want to join, my passion for Judaism and the state of Israel has not diminished by a single bit.

Next up, I was lucky enough to meet seven amazing people for dinner one night at the dining hall. We ended up going back to one of their dorms to continue chatting. Somehow, the subject of religion and g-d came up, and, from their questions, I began delving into Jewish history, specifically the origination of the laws of Kashrut and Shabbat. Then, one of my friends mentioned offhand that she’s been to a Bar Mitzvah and that she remembers one “hype” song. After some searching, I begin to hear Hava Nagilah on the speaker. My heart lights up. Another asks if there is a dance to this. As I shyly said yes, she furthers and asks if I know it. I said, “yeah, but it’s a circle dance with many people.” Within seconds all eight of us were dancing to Hava Nagilah, in a dorm room, in Worcester, MA, for a good few minutes. I would equate the feeling I felt during this dance to when I just finished reading my Half-Torah at my Bar Mitzvah. As they were watching my footsteps to the song, I couldn’t help but have the biggest grin on my face. I felt as though there was no place I would rather be.

Lastly, another night, one of my fellow students noticed my kippa and pronounced to the room. “Are you Jewish?” Of course I responded with a proud yes. And then he proceeded to offer some of his ham he was having for lunch. I respectfully declined. A few minutes later after this conversation had ended something must have clicked for him as he began to apologize as he just realized Jewish people are not allowed to eat pig.

One of my biggest dilemmas this past year on my gap year in Israel was whether I would wear a kippa once I got to University in the United States. I asked family, rabbis and random people on the street. This was something I was really struggling with. However, one day I found the answer. I told myself, look, you’ve been wearing a kippa for about five years every single day. It’s who you are, and you couldn’t be happier to be that person.


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