Judaism in the Cornfields

Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 2:23 am | By Rebecca Heller '11

Until Grinnell, I had lived my whole life in the East Coast Jewish bubble. I went to a private Jewish day school, ate Chinese food on Christmas, and attended more bar mitzvah ceremonies than you could shake a stick at. Don’t get me wrong, I love Manhattan kosher delis as much as the next girl, but I needed to meet different people in a new environment. This was hard for most of my friends and family to understand, and most thought I was throwing away my upbringing to live in the Iowa cornfields.

To be honest, I was a little wary, too. On the surface, Grinnell didn’t have a large Jewish population, nor a separate kosher dining hall or a bustling Hillel (the national Jewish college and university organization). As a prospective student, I attended the Chalutzim (our campus Jewish organization) weekly Shabbat Table, but I felt a little out of place. Still, I couldn’t help falling in love with Grinnell, from the down-to-earth student body, encouraging professors, quirky traditions, and social justice ideals. I accepted Grinnell’s offer with little hesitation, speculating that I would figure out the “Jewish part” once I got to campus.

The more time I spent at Chalutzim events, the more I realized that there were other ways to be Jewish besides my familial traditions. Grinnell’s small, family-like Jewish community and supportive rabbi allowed me to think about Judaism in a new way, a way that I would have never found at a heavily Jewish East Coast college. Slowly, Grinnell’s Jewish traditions have become my own. The candid conversations about religion, the student-baked challah, the familiar Friday faces — these have all become part of my daily life at Grinnell.

With the supportive environment and unique student body, Grinnell is a meaningful place for students who seek faith, fun, or just the freedom to be themselves.

Rebecca Heller '11 is a History major from Cranfield, New Jersey.