So it is, that in a mere two weeks, I will be leaving Chicago for a week-long trip prior to my arriving in Storrs, Connecticut, where I will be attending school to acquire a master's degree in Judaic studies. It's a two year program, and whether I end up in a PhD program in New York or Israel or elsewhere or if I end up meeting my beshert and starting a family or if I end up doing school temporarily in Israel or converting Orthodox or working at some Jewish organization, well ... those things are yet to be seen/decided/figured out. I could, of course, get hit by a bus tomorrow -- who knows!
When I leave Chicago, I'm making the (semi-) brief trek to Lincoln, Nebraska, where I spent my adolescence and undergraduate years. I'll be spending time with my little brother, who is 16, meeting his new (and first) girlfriend. I'll be going to the restaurants that I so miss, eating the food that I remember as distinctly Nebraskan, visiting the locales (the CoHo) where I would sometimes spend eight hours a day studying biblical Hebrew. I'll be in Lincoln for about four days, hopefully seeing old friends and having drinks and doing that "last hurrah" kind of thing before I scoot off to Connecticut, where I plan to make some lifestyle changes. Of course, I say that I plan, but we all know how planning goes -- most of the time it doesn't. I hesitate to make any grandiose statements, and at this point making those statements without my big WHAT IS MY THEOLOGY post would probably result in some criticism and furthering opinions about my sincerity. So, let's just say, my time in Nebraska is meant to be a full, all-out time of enjoyment and good times.
I'll then make the 22-hour drive from Lincoln to Storrs over a few days. I'm still not sure how I'm splitting the trip up, or whether I'll be stopping at all. I know driving 22 hours is pretty brutal, and it's difficult because I'll be driving through several states were friends -- some whom I haven't seen in years or met at all -- reside. In a perfect world, I'd loop through Indiana and Ohio and Pennsylvania, making stops to see e-friends and college friends alike. Then again, the price of gas and the thought of turning my car in after the deadline make my wallet weep. So chances are, it'll be a straight-shot.
I am hoping, though, that when I am in Connecticut, that I will be able to make at least once-a-month treks into New York city for Shabbos with (at present) e-friends. I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be on Shabbat, especially with my ever-evolving Underconstructionist existence. Plus, if I'm going to meet a nice Jewish boy, the chances are good that I'll be able to pick one up in NYC, nu? From what I can tell, there's a mighty (or perhaps just visible) Jewish presence on the U of C campus. There's a Hillel (with their own website!) and Chabad, and it appears that they have cross-denomination services on Shabbat (this intrigues me immensely -- egalitarian? which prayer book? women leading services?). West Hartford, a half-hour jaunt from Storrs, has a mighty Jewish presence, including an active eruv. They even have a weekly Jewish newspaper: the Jewish Ledger. It seems, though, that it might be easier for me to go to NYC than to get to Hartford. Shocking, eh? My plan is to stay on campus for Shabbos, see how services are, and perhaps develop my own Shabbat habits. But it's hard to write about what I want to happen, thinking about what will happen. I guess in about a month, I should have already experienced my first Shabbat, as well as having experienced the opening Jewish BBQ festivities, and hopefully I'll have some idea of what the Jewish presence on campus is like.
And I know what some reader is thinking: Who cares? Well, I care. My undergraduate school had about 90 Jews enrolled (or was it 60?), and of those, there were about 15-20 who were actually "actively Jewish," as in, showed up for Hillel events and took the Jewish studies courses and what have you. I'd be happy with even 100 Jewish students who show their faces every now and again. I mean, in a state with 6,000 Jews, most of whom live in Omaha, it was tough cookies as far as making a Jewish connection or finding a mate went. So I'm excited at the prospect of a more prevalent, populous community. And the thought of even being near NYC, an American Jewish mecca, well, really gets my gears going.
Community, folks, is a BIG part of Judaism, being Jewish, living Jewishly. At least, it is for me!