Here's the countdown:
8 The Jewish Connection (Social Life) From watching Seinfeld episodes to Wet Hot American Summer, there's nothing like being able to find a group of likeminded Jews with whom to sit around and laugh at those "inside jokes" that only other Jewish students would understand. "In college you need a group to watch Adam Sandler movies with who'll get all the jokes," says Dana Tarley of American University. "Besides, who else will play Jewish Geography with you?" "It automatically creates a group of friends right away," says Becca Luckman of New York University. "It's just easier," explains Justin Felder of the University of Florida. "You feel more comfortable with a group of people with similar interests, going to services together, celebrating the same traditions, sharing common friends from camp or youth group, and comparable upbringings." "In a larger or urban school," adds Erica Bern of NYU, "a positive Jewish environment can be the key to belonging to a smaller, more cohesive community."
7 There are 16 Ways to Spell Chanukah (Holidays) The Jewish holidays are a huge part of college life. Even if you used to celebrate them low-key at home, sharing your traditions away at school can be really meaningful. "It's hard to maintain a Jewish identity and continue religious practices like [not eating bread on] Passover away from home without the support of other Jews at school," says Justin Felder. "It's great to be able to sit in the sukkah and shake the lulav and etrog with other students," adds Joshua Borenstein of NYU. Besides, says Ben Ishofsky of NYU, during the winter holiday season, "there's comfort in knowing that other students also get 8 gifts instead of 1."
6 The Friday Night Party (Shabbat) For Jews, there's a "holiday season" every week in the semester, and it's called Shabbat. Many schools provide Shabbat dinners and services where Jewish students can meet, greet, and eat. It's a comfortable social environment, says Chloe Marin, "and you can avoid some of the over-the-top pitfalls of dorm parties." That's not to say you can't party at a campus Shabbat. Mike Fuld of NYU explains: "We've had famous musicians join us, themed events like Social Action Shabbat and Game Night, and the last Friday of the semester was Cinco de Mayo Shabbat with sombreros and a piñata."
5 "Is He/She Jewish?!" (Dating) A school that has a positive Jewish environment is bound to have a decent number of Jewish coeds. "It makes dating a little bit easier," says Kyle Goldich of Louisiana State University. "You're more likely to find a potential spouse," predicts Yonatan Platt, also of LSU. Adds Joshua Borenstein: "You just might meet and fall in love with someone who your grandparents/parents would approve of."
4 Never Too Much of Doing a Good Thing (Repairing the World) It's great to take on community service within a school club, but there's something unique about working to repair the world through a Jewish lens. Jewish campus organizations have been at the forefront of Darfur anti-genocide activism, assisting people in the flood-damaged Gulf Coast region during school breaks; and on the local level, a number of NYU students regularly pitch in at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion's Monday soup kitchen. "Volunteering through a Jewish organization identifies the actions with my own beliefs and ideals," says Ben Ishofsky. "And Judaism provides a context in which I can make a difference in society; it makes it more than just a one-time feel-good thing."
3 An "I" in Common (Israel) The Middle East is a hot topic on many campuses. "It's great to have a support network in the event of anti-Semitism or anti-Israel activity at school," says Joshua Borenstein. "You know there's a place on campus where others will join you in standing up for Israel." In addition, some schools offer classes about Israel, trips to Israel during school breaks, and credit for Israel-based study (see chart on pp 48-49).
2 You're Not a Lone Soul (Spiritual & Emotional Support) Outside the comfort zone of home and in the community of college, you've got more papers, more classes, more exams, more extracurricular activities, more intense relationships--not to mention more laundry. If you're in a school with a positive Jewish environment, when the stress skyrockets "there's a support network in the form of approachable Hillel staff members, rabbis, and fellow Jews for any reason," says Joshua Borenstein. "And if you're struggling with your religion or your faith," says Miriam Zichlin of Trinity College, "you'll have student as well as faculty opinions."
1 Free To Be You and Me (Self-Identity) Finally! Outside of the family rules and expectations, this is the time when you figure out who you are--and exploring your Jewish heritage can only enrich the process. In a positive Jewish school environment you can develop your own personal connection to Judaism in whatever ways you choose. "Being in a Jewish environment challenges your ideas and can lead to a better understanding of your own feelings and practices," says Mara Judd. Ben Ishofsky explains: "When you're surrounded by people who practice exactly the same way you do, you never know there is more out there to explore. Being on a campus [NYU] with a range of Jewish students--secular, Reform, Orthodox, cultural--there is always an opportunity for me to question myself and to be questioned. I get to continuously rearrange what role Judaism plays in my life." "I've been exposed to different types of Jews and I'm learning a lot about my own personal Judaism," adds Rachel Antonoff of University of Maryland. "I continue to feel connected to Judaism in my own way as I become my own person instead of just my parents' child."
--Jill Goldstein, junior at NYU and member of the KESHER Student Leadership Council