Some time last year, when the group was just getting started, we knew that we had to do something. We had to just get something started so we could capitalize on the initial positive energy people were showing and encourage others. So the idea I brought up was to model the Kiddush idea that we had done so beautifully in Tel Aviv two years previously in Penn. Lacking any opposition or better ideas, we decided to go for it, with the target locale being the Quad. One Friday, we baked some cookies, got some decent wine (at least better than the Kedem wine [according to some opinions]) and photocopied some copies of Kiddush. After a quick Shabbat dinner, a bunch of four of us went out, and split into two groups in the Quad. We said we would meet up in an hour at someone’s room and bidding each other hatzlacha rabba (great success), off we went.
It was not an easy mission – and completely different than that which we did in Israel. For one, we didn’t know who was Jewish. We tried to figure it out by the names on the door but some rooms only had first names, some were ambiguous and in some, only one roommate would be Jewish. Another complication was that Friday night seemed to be either a big partying night or a big studying night (my guess is the former) and many rooms were empty. Then, even if we knocked on the door of someone who we knew was Jewish, what do we say? While in our minds it all made sense, when actually articulating it to some random girl standing there asking who we were, it was a lot harder. Especially after a few initial failures and frustrations, it was difficult to get into the right state of mind. When we met up afterward, we recapped on our journeys over the remaining bottles of wine (which it turns out were the worst bottles of wine ever). It seemed to have gone alright – in the end we made Kiddush for a few people and met a whole bunch more. But it just wasn’t the overwhelming, heartwarming, life-changing experience that I had recalled.
When discussing what made it different from my Israel experience, the main factor that came up was that it wasn’t Israel. While Tel Aviv-ians might be secular, most have them have pretty strong Jewish identities and if someone actually comes to make Kiddush with them, they’d be happy to oblige. Not so much in Penn- where many of the thousands of secular Jews unfortunately don’t have much in terms of a Jewish identity. Some people we met that night who were definitely Jewish didn’t even really know what Kiddush was. It also must have been weirder for them to see some religious people offering to make Kiddush, unlike Israel where at least a good third of the country makes Kiddush Friday nights. And while in Israel it seemed so natural, in the Quad we felt like missionaries. Maybe that’s one of the [many] painful downfalls of not being in your own land – that’s it’s often perceived as odd to attempt to share the beauties of your religious with your own co-religionists. In any event, for all its downsides, the night was a success – both in terms of meeting and sharing Shabbat with some Jews, and in terms of showing ourselves and our fellow committed cohorts that we were serious about doing that. And while it wasn’t the perfect idea, it did helps us gain much insight into a lot of the issues that exist on campus and helped prepare us for future ideas.
It was not until six months later that I had the perfect redemptive end to this story…