Dear Melanie

Melanie Cytron

By Melanie Cytron

Dear Melanie,

Next year, I will be attending a small college with a very small Jewish population. The school has no Hillel or Chabad, and I’m worried that I might lose touch with my religion. I grew up observing all of the major Jewish holidays and celebrating Shabbat every Friday night; I don’t want to discard these traditions just because I’m leaving home. I want to be able to practice Judaism regardless of where I am. How can I continue to observe Jewish customs?

-Losing my Religion in Lafayette

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Dear Losing my Religion,

As the popular camp song reminds us, “wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish.” Even though it may seem like there are no Jews around, if you know where to look, you will find that you are not alone.

If your college is near another college or a large city, chances are that it might have a Hillel or other Jewish group you can join. Www.hillel.org has a guide to Jewish life on campus that will tell you whether or not there is one nearby. If there isn’t, it is still possible that your college is a “Small and Mighty” campus, meaning that it has a student-run Hillel organization that is supported by the Soref Initiative, a Hillel-run program that supports campuses with small Jewish populations. The Soref Initiative currently supports 163 campuses in the United States and Canada.

In addition, many Jewish traditions can be observed within the confines of your dorm room. Celebrate Shabbat with a bottle of grape juice and a loaf of bread. Get an electric menorah and ‘light’ the candles on Hanukkah. Ask your parents to send you a box of matzah and a Haggadah and host a mini-seder in your dorm room on Passover. With a little creativity, it is possible to celebrate Judaism virtually anywhere.

Dear Melanie,

A close friend of mine keeps inviting me to go to church with her. For many weeks now, I have declined her invitation, not because I don’t want to attend a church service, but because I wouldn’t know how to act. The truth is, I would like to go – I’ve always been very curious about how different religions worship. Is this permissible in the Torah? Also, what is the proper way for a Jew to behave in a church so as not to disrespect the congregants?

-Confused in Clayton

Dear Confused,

The second commandment forbids the Jewish people from committing idolatry, the worship of false gods. Because Christians believe in the Trinity, the idea that God is more than a single entity, some may believe that Christianity is a form of idolatry. However, modern rabbis often dismiss this theory because Christianity encourages Christians to live worthy, free lives. Therefore, Jews are permitted to enter churches as long as they do not submit to proselytizing.

Christian services are actually quite similar to Jewish services in that the congregants sit, stand, pray, and sing. Make sure that you are courteous to religious figures and congregants. When it comes to actually participating in the service, it is not advisable that you follow along; instead, you should observe quietly. If the congregants kneel, remain seated in the pew. In general, you should behave respectfully, but don’t feel pressured to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. If you wouldn’t do it in a synagogue, don’t do it in a church.

“Dear Melanie” hopes to help those with burning Jewish questions find the answers they seek. This column will be an ongoing series, publishing your questions and my advice. To submit your questions to “Dear Melanie,” email me at [email protected]! No topic is too controversial, no question will be left unanswered – I look forward to reading your submissions!