By Julie Shabto '14
When I first came to Dartmouth, I did not know what to expect from Jewish life on campus. Coming from a town with a significant Jewish population, I wasn’t sure how I felt about attending a school with a smaller Jewish community. Judaism has always been a big part of my life. At home, my family belongs to a reform synagogue; we are not extremely observant, but we do have consistent Shabbat dinners, eat kosher meat, celebrate all the Jewish holidays and attend synagogue on high holidays. I became a Bat Mitzvah and continued my formal Jewish education through Confimation.
During my junior year of high school, when I visited Dartmouth for the first time, my mom insisted that we see the Hillel. I knew that a Jewish establishment existed at Dartmouth, but honestly, at the time, I wasn’t thinking about how I would spend the Jewish holidays on campus. As an incoming freshman when I had to fill out “religious preference,” I learned that there was Chabad at Dartmouth. I didn’t check off Chabad, because I thought Chabad was geared for ultra-orthodox Jews and I had heard primarily negative stereotypes about the Chabad community at large.
Shortly after arriving on campus, my trip leader from First-Year DOC trips invited me to attend Shabbat dinner at the Chabad house. I was excited about the invite to an event where I could meet other Jews on campus, but to tell you the truth, I wasn’t so psyched that it was a “Chabad” event. Yet, I put my preconceived notions aside and went to Shabbat dinner.
Looking back, I can say without reservation that deciding to go to Chabad freshman fall was one of the best decisions I made that year. At my first Shabbat dinner, not only did I learn that Jews of all levels of observance are part of the Chabad community at Dartmouth but also I realized how important it is to have a close-knit, Jewish community away from home, for me. I also now recognize that feeling comfortable talking to Rabbi Gray and Chani about anything that is going on in my life is incredibly valuable.
After countless Shabbat dinners, participating in Sinai Scholars last spring, and now as a member of the Chabad board, I am proud to say that Jewish life at Dartmouth is strong and growing and I am lucky to be a part of it. I have met some of my closest friends through Chabad, and I introduced other friends to Chabad so that they too can be part of this strong Jewish community on campus.
For me, Judaism is about tradition and community. Chabad is a community where I feel welcome and supported, and celebrating Shabbat each week and Jewish holidays with friends is a tradition that has certainly enriched my experience at Dartmouth