By Ben Clayman
A Little About Me: I am 20 years old, grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, and in the summer going into senior year of high school I went to Aish HaTorah quite randomly and came back frum. I now go back during my summer and winter breaks, by the way I am in university. Other interesting tidbits, I have a beard, sport curled peyos, and always can be seen with my tzizis out. Some would call me a flaming BT, I prefer “very enthusiastic”. I live in the Chabad House of the University of Chicago, am half Moroccan, went to Uman this Rosh HaShanah, am close to Chicago’s Ohr Somayach rabbis, and my Rebbe is Rav Noach Weinberg thus I follow Nusach Askenkaz of the Lithuanian Yeshivish flavor. At this point, you might be asking, “What is he getting at?” I am trying to hit home to encourage Ahavas Israel and give you a look at campus life for young Jews. We are rapidly growing bunch and we need your help…
Campus Life: Next order of business, let me first say unequivocally that sending your children to live on campus is dangerous, foolish, and near guaranteed to put them in an atmosphere that ranges from negative to hostile to a frum lifestyle. Not to say they won’t succeed, but it will leave scars. I have dozens of BT friends on campuses all around America. We have the following suggestions that would make our lives greatly improved.
1. Be Proactive. We have minyan 3x a day, only one person in our regular minyan has frum grandparents. I’ll let you infer as to what that means about the rest of the minyan. There are BTs out there on campus, if you live near one give a call to the Kiruv rabbi on campus, Chabad House, or Hillel and ask for their phone numbers and give them a call. Invite them over. If you are an alumnus, even if you don’t live near the school, giving a call to one can not only make your day, but could change the student’s life knowing that some random Jew loves them enough to call them and see how they are doing spiritually on campus.
2. ADOPT US! Don’t tell us “Give me a call for Shabbos” instead make us part of your family, We don’t have frum family, we don’t have ‘guaranteed’ Shabbos plans if things fall through with someone else, we don’t have a support network of Baal Baatim we can look up to as models living in both the Shul and workplace. We NEED you. After getting to know one of us, say to yourself, “I need to take responsibility for him” and sit him down and say, “You are permanently invited to our home, for meals, for a place to stay, for our Simchas, and for being an older brother/sister to our children for the next 4 years.” It will change their lives and yours.
3. Of course the professional Kiruv workers are doing amazing jobs, but for the already BT, life can be tough on campus. The battle for the hearts and minds of young Jews most often takes place on campus, speak to any Kiruv professional and they will tell you that most BTs come frum right after or during college. An age of change, open to new ideas, and outside their familiar environment, they explore their Judaism for the first time. When first coming to campus, nothing impressed me more then when a chair of a department invited me to his home for Shabbos. This chairman walks around campus with his untouched beard, black hat, and always a smile and time to say hello. A scientist in the medical school came to the student’s Mincha and invited us to learn Bava Kama with him during his lunch break. An alumnus invited us over on a permanent basis, he ‘adopted’ us while another alumnus made us feel part of the family by making sure we had Sedorim with their parents and a place to stay. A rebbe at a local high school said to us that if we ever needed a meal he would always be there for us. This is the kind of message that needs to be given to all BT students.
In Conclusion: Adopt a college student, don’t just speak about Ahavas Israel but live it through actions and be loud and proud, and if there are frum Yidden in the ultra-corrupting atmosphere of college campuses who can come out alright, we have nothing to fear. Additionally, I am starting a support group for college BTs to have an annual Shabbaton, share experiences, get mentors, and create a community that will bezras Hashem, will encourage others to do teshuvah.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any names of BTs at universities or your yourself are one and want to get involved or give feedback. Together, we can bring home countless Yidden.
P.S. In the comments, post if you yourself did teshuvah in college or currently help out on campuses.