Happy New Year from Rutgers Hillel
By Rabbi Brandon Bernstein, Reform Outreach Initiative Rabbi
An inescapable consequence of my decision to live in Highland Park without a car is the twice-daily question I must now face: how am I going to get from here (my apartment) to there (Rutgers University) and back today? Occasionally, I am lucky enough that a co-worker may offer me a ride, providing an easy response to my first-world traveler’s woes. Far more frequently, however, I take it upon myself to walk 1.4 miles each way. Every time, I begrudge the walk-to-come, and every time, I find myself pausing on the bridge to drink in the sight of the Raritan River (most especially when my crossing coincides with the sunset). That bridge is surely my favorite part of the walk.
The famous Hasidic teacher Rabbi Nachman of Breslov once taught that the whole entire world is a very narrow bridge, but the crux of the matter is not to be afraid. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say I fear my morning walk, I certainly don’t look forward to crossing the bridge….until I find myself on it.
The Jewish High Holidays are, in their own way, also a type of bridge. They take us from here (the new year, Rosh Hashanah, which starts Wednesday, 9/24) to there (Yom Kippur). From one year (5774) to the next (5775!). From the Day of Judgment to the Day of Atonement. From self-satisfaction to self-reflection. From our greatest doubts to our deepest wishes. Rabbi Alan Lew, in his soul-stirring High Holiday guidebook This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared, describes Rosh Hashanah as a bridge between heaven and earth. A time when heaven above judges earth below; a time when we on earth attempt to honestly assess just what kind of impact we actually have on others. The stakes of the day are so high, it’s no surprise some might feel a great fear, or a great distaste, or even a great disconnect. And so we have guides to help us across the bridge we otherwise might fear, kind souls who may offer us a ride to make sure we reach the other end. Many of you will look to your rabbis and cantors for such guidance (a few of you may even look to Rabbi Reed, Rabbi Frieberg, and myself!).
College, too, can be a bridge. A narrow, frightening bridge on the path to independence and self-discovery. Rutgers is no exception. The bridge that is your time here can be especially scary for new students taking their first steps out of their parents’ homes. It can be daunting for seniors, uncertain of what the “real world” may have in store for them on the other side. But it is not a bridge you have to walk alone.
We at Rutgers Hillel specialize in helping students to not only cross the bridge, but to appreciate their time upon it. Maybe you’ll find guidance through our Center for Israel Engagement. Maybe you’ll connect with the Orthodox JLIC couple or with me through the Reform Outreach Initiative. Maybe your own peers, like the Hillel Student Board or our LEAD fellows, will offer you that ride. We all find ourselves on the same narrow bridge; we hope you’ll spend some of your time on it with us.
Wishing you all shana tova u’metuka (a sweet and good year) from the staff at Rutgers Hillel. See you on the other side!