Hello everyone. Ha’Am has established a new column called “Ask Yente,” where YOU can ask questions about anything troubling you. I, your wise Yente, will try my best to answer your questions in a timely manner. All I ask is that the questions be appropriate for publication on this website and that they have some Jewish relevance to them. Please submit your questions to [email protected].
Due to the overwhelming number of responses, Yente will not always be able to answer all of your questions. Please keep writing as I receive and read all letters. I love getting letters from students because they remind me of my time as a UCLA undergrad. For my first post, I have chosen to respond to questions by campus youngsters that are unique yet applicable to the whole student population.
This is my first year at UCLA. I’m loving it so far. My classes are great and I’ve met a bunch of cool people. I have also attended many Jewish events and have gotten in touch with my Judaism. I also really like many of the rabbis I have met on campus, but they all want to meet with me! I really like discussing Jewish texts and philosophy, but I’m just so busy when I’m on campus. How do I politely decline an invitation to study with a rabbi?
– Rabbi Overload
Dear Rabbi Overload,
There are so many events taking place on campus; it is impossible to fit them all into your day. Even counting only Jewish events and activities, there are more than enough to fill your calendar. The rabbis on campus have been around students for a while. They know that, sometimes, you have to put your studies first. Just be direct and honest about your commitments and they will understand. If all else fails, I like to keep a costume mustache and dark glasses on hand in case of a rabbinic run-in.
I want to get more involved in Jewish life on campus, but I don’t have a background in Judaism and I don’t want to feel out of place or offend anyone. What can I do?
Lost in Tradition
Dear Lost in Tradition,
All Jewish organizations on campus are very welcoming and love teaching people about Judaism and Jewish cultures. I’m sure they would all love to have you, and most of their programs are newcomer-friendly. For example, at Shabbat dinners, most of the customs are explained for people just like you. There are also several learning initiatives on campus, like the Maimonidies Program at JAM, Sinai Scholars at Chabad, and the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus at Hillel. There are even Jewish clubs and organizations that are not religious at all, like the sorority Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi, the fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi, and Hillel’s Challah for Hunger. The campus is a learning environment and a pluralistic community. College is a time to learn, don’t shy away from any activities; attending is the best way to learn. Also, while I’m sure no one would make a scene if you talked after Friday night hand-washing, if you are worried about potentially offending other students, there are great websites like MyJewishLearning.com or even Wikipedia.org where you could learn about Jewish customs and traditions. Coming to me with this question means you are already off to a great start. Join some clubs or go to a Shabbat dinner and once you have some background in Judaism, Ha’Am is always looking for new staff writers!
I’m sorry if my question sounds trivial, but here it goes: I don’t like wearing skirts. Now normally this doesn’t present a problem, but I don’t want to feel out of place or offend anyone at Shabbat dinner. It is worth it to be uncomfortable so that I fit in?
Dear Pants Person,
Great question! I think that many people have concerns about their Shabbat attire. Shabbat is a time of rest and celebration and for many it is customary to dress a little nicer than they do during the week. However, you are by no means obligated to wear a skirt or anything else than what you normally wear. Most girls you see at dinner will be wearing dresses or skirts, but a few will also be dressed casually. You might consider wearing a nicer pair of pants with a blouse. That way you can dress in a special way, but also be comfortable. I have spent many a Shabbat rocking a sweater and slacks. So, please, do whatever makes you comfortable. Shabbat should be a relaxing and fun time, not a time to stress.
Yente’s advice was transcribed by the technology-savy Nicole Rudolph.