I began college this fall worried and confused about many things, but with great confidence and purpose in the realms that had most of my fellow first-year students panicking: the social scene, the pressure of good grades and finding free time, for example. Having learned the value of community as integral to living as a Jew from our Atlanta community, I relied on the small, but very special community of committed Jews I’d be joining for built-in friendships. In the radically pluralistic community I am now part of, we don’t just take our kosher meals together, but do community service, hang out, celebrate and support each other through difficulties.
When it comes to grades and headspace, my commitment to G-d and Torah compels me and brings me clarity. G-d and Torah dictate my priorities; my success in those realms will not be measured in grades. Commitment to davening with my community, keeping Shabbos and attending regular shiurim [lessons] could feel taxing, but is instead rejuvenating. It provides me with regular reminders that I derive value in this world from some place deeper than homework, that my investment in schoolwork is another part of my commitment to G-d’s world and to my community.
A recurring refrain that we sang during my gap year in Israel was v’taher libeinu l’ovdecha be’emet, may G-d purify our hearts to worship him earnestly. Tahor [pure,clean], like the oil that lasted against all odds. Being part of a community, with Judaism at the center, fuels me daily to stay honest and derive joy in my Jewish practices, relationships and schoolwork.
Maayan Schoen is a graduate of Torah Day School and Atlanta Jewish Academy. She studies at Yale University.