I arrived at Cornell four years ago with my friend from Hebrew school as a roommate and dozens of other Jewish friends and acquaintances serving as much-needed familiar faces. I attended a few events at Hillel during my first few semesters—Jewish Speed Dating with a girl on my floor, Lattes at Libe for hot chocolate on a cold day—but still didn’t feel all that connected. I had my own Jewish friends and wasn’t searching for anything further. It wasn’t until the beginning of junior year when I felt compelled to attend my first Shabbat dinner, mostly because I was living in an apartment and was finally responsible for my own meals.
From that first Shabbat, I was hooked. I sang Shalom Aleichem again, just as I had years before in summer camp, but this time I felt comfortable in my surroundings. Faces I recognized from around campus now had names, and the more people I met, the more excited I felt to see them each week, and the more I felt like I belonged. I signed up to connect with an underclassman “Hillel buddy,” changed my profile picture to a Bat Mitzvah photo in anticipation of the Big Red Bar Mitzvah, and hosted a Rosh Hashanah dinner for 50+ friends through Shabbat Across Cornell.
Looking toward senior year, I decided to fill out a Hillel internship application while bored in an airport in Berlin, and once again, a simple and selfish decision turned out to be a life-changing one. I instantly connected with the new staff that had joined in summer 2016, and found myself in the office well beyond the 5-10 hours a week needed for the internship. I finally had a place and a purpose within the Jewish community, and I felt more at home within it than anywhere else at Cornell. One thing led to another, and I ended up joining the Hillel staff after graduating in December 2016.
For the past few months as the Campus Engagement Fellow, I’ve supported students in planning programming initiatives and seen them take pride in their own contributions to the Jewish community here at Cornell. This has proved to be even more rewarding than any work I did as a student. I love the feeling of watching our students fall in love with Jewish life here just as I did, and realize for themselves how much it means to them to be part of this community. I hope that long after I leave, students will know the office door is always open to them and that there are more perks to visiting than free coffee and snacks.
I’ve had an incredible and unpredictable journey at Cornell, and I have Hillel to thank for so much of my experience and of my identity. A supportive community can spark so much personal growth—I feel completely at home here, and as a result, I’ve grown into the confident, mature, “Jewish mother” figure that my friends know me as today. I have never felt prouder or luckier to be Jewish than I have here, and I know that sentiment will linger long after I leave Ithaca.