I ended up staying in school for the whole chag – I had seen my parents the week before, my siblings were coming to visit me for Shabbat, and it would my last chag at Penn as a student – how could I leave!! People asked me “Hart, are you really staying at Penn for all of Pesach??” You would think that I was being enslaved in Egypt, that’s how averse people were to the idea. No, I wanted to stay, and it ended up being incredible (of course), including some of the most amazing tisches of my time in Penn – one tisch in 403 in the dark with 50 people sitting on the floor, 1/2 OCP, 1/4 CJC, and 1/4 Kesher or unaffiliated; another one with 35 people outside on the grass, until it got broken up by the cops at 1am. And they were really good tisches – amazing singing, wonderful people, beautiful words of Torah, and some delectable kosher-for-Passover treats from my grandparents (thanks B&G!).
Probably because there was a small Orthodox crowd, we all got to bond with each other, as well as to meet new people and include them into our community; I probably met over 50 new people over Pesach – and that’s just me! In retrospect, what was also amazing was that we did all that (Seders, tisches, shiurim, and ran an amazing community for a week) without the JLIC rabbi and rebbetzin being here. There’s something nice about having a rabbi run things, but there’s something downright inspiring about running a community yourselves. And you get to do it exactly how you want, down to the tisches, the table arrangements, and the Seders. In some ways, we got a taste of what it’s like to go to a college with a small religious community. For all the struggles and challenges it presents, it also affords a lot of amazing opportunities, both within the Orthodox community and in impacting the wider Jewish population. In fact, when Pesach ended and the masses came back, a few students shared with me their frustration and disappointment that we’d have to go back to the old ways. Don’t get me wrong – there’s something amazing about having such a big and vibrant religious community, but believe it or not, there are times when I’m jealous of those colleges with small communities and no rabbi. (Probably only until I have to be in that community full-time.) Regardless, those 8 days at Penn were some of the most freeing and uplifting as any, and definitely a good way to end my Penn career. Until I come back next year, of course 😉