A Senior's Perspective Natasha Lerner '13
Almost four years ago to this day, I received my W&L early-decision acceptance letter. I was ecstatic - knowing that this school was the ideal place for me in every way, except possibly one: I was apprehensive about what being Jewish in a small, southern school would mean. And yet, I was also comforted by the Hillel website, which looked welcoming - posted with smiling photos of Jewish students and a triumphant announcement that the money needed to build a Hillel house was finally raised and construction would begin that year and be completed soon.
While I found it odd during my first year that many of my new friends had never met a Jewish person and even odder that they had never experienced the comfort of matzo ball soup or the superiority of challah bread, I did not feel any different from my peers. My first year I was relatively uninvolved in Hillel, able to count the number of events and services that I attended on one hand.
During my sophomore year, I traveled to Israel on a Birthright trip and became a sturdier presence in Hillel, attending one or two events each week. While I didn't seek Hillel out due to any ostracism, I did realize that being away from my family and beloved New York City meant that I missed celebrating being Jewish: the holidays, traditions, community, food, and, yes, jokes and sense of humor. At Hillel, I found a new home away from home, a place filled with others who also longed to sing songs learned in Hebrew school, eat rugelach, and shake groggers.
Soon my non-Jewish friends began to wonder: "What is Natasha doing?" My disappearances and peculiar
habits raised more questions: "Where are you going on Friday nights?" "Why is the E-Café called kosher and what
does kosher mean?" "How do you play dreidel?" So I invited them along - to see for themselves.
Although we are attending a school with a small Jewish community, we are a school with an open, no-pressure Jewish community, embraced by an interested and supportive student body. For me, being able to bring my non-Jewish friends to all Hillel events has really enriched my Hillel experience and kept me involved. Some of my happiest memories at W&L have been sharing my traditions with friends. Indeed, the shock on my face when I brought my best friend, who is Christian, to our Hanukkah party only to have her beat everyone in the dreidel competition, including me - with my impressive upside-down spin that I had been perfecting for nearly a decade! - was priceless!
I realized that the memory of showing another non-Jewish friend exactly what it is like to eat while reclining to the left during Passover Seder is beautiful. Eating Shabbat dinner with Jews and non-Jews at the end of the week offers up a cherished retreat - to relax, reflect, and smile, as we all try to perfect our "ch" sound! Now my favorite W&L annual Hillel event is the Great Latke-Hamantash Debate, during which everyone belly laughs and I show non-Jewish friends just how much sour cream each latke really requires (a lot!).
While I originally became involved in Hillel in order to form friendships and a community with those of a similar faith and
tradition, I now look back on my four years at W&L and know that the open exchange of new experiences, humor, and lessons that I shared with my non-Jewish friends was most meaningful and poignant. Those eye-opening encounters quelled my original nerves and showed me just how wonderful and accepting W&L can be.