Two Roads Diverged: My Personal Journey
By Noah Whittenburg, Class of 2015
One of my favorite poems is called The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost and the first stanza starts out saying, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,/ And sorry I could not travel both/ And be one traveler, long I stood/ And looked down one as far as I could/ To where it bent in the undergrowth”. Life is constantly full of choices, many of which split in very different directions similar to a diverging road. To me, this is an occurrence that happens more frequently than we even realize. My involvement with Rutgers Hillel is one of those stories.
When I came back from my Taglit Birthright trip I was, similar to many others who have experienced the trip, very eager to find my personal connection to Judaism. I was fortunate enough to be raised in a household that promoted having a strong Jewish identity. However, I never spent enough time figuring out what Judaism meant to me. Throughout high school, my Judaism was mainly a Star of David necklace that I wore every day. So once I came back, my plan was to go to Hillel and start to figure it out. Obviously, this is easier said than done. Going into the second week of school and a month removed from my trip, I was definitely exploring my Judaism, but I had not yet stepped foot into Hillel.
Then one Friday night, my luck changed. As I was leaving my house off campus I noticed a group standing on the sidewalk—among the group were males wearing kippahs. I figured I could not afford to give up the opportunity to talk to them, maybe I would even find out what would be the next event at Hillel. After a little schmoozing I got the phone number of one of the people in the group. He kept the Jewish Sabbath, so he did not have his phone on him at the time, but I made sure to text him anyway so that he would have my number.
In the coming weeks he called me and invited me to multiple events. One involved free pizza, at which I met and started a relationship with the OU-JLIC Orthodox rabbi. Another was eating sushi in a Sukkah. After going to a few of these events, I started to feel my place at Hillel forming. I was getting to know people and I no longer felt like the stranger I had started out as. One Friday night I went to the traditional Orthodox Shabbat service. I remember very little about the event itself—mainly that I was never on the right page. When the Mesorah (Orthodox community) President stood up to speak, I knew nothing about him, but I remember contemplating the impact I felt that position had.
From here my story gets far too complicated to be explained in a single blog post. I became an Orthodox Jew. I ran for Holiday chair on Hillel board, but did not get it. I ended up being the Communication chair on the Mesorah board, and today I am the Mesorah Co-Chair. In the Robert Frost poem, he ends by saying “I took the one less traveled by,/ And that has made all the difference”. I can personally attest to this. Had I stayed on the path I was traveling on, I would have been content, but I would have lived a very average life. Instead I took a risk and after just a little taste of what Hillel has to offer, I took a leap of faith and that has changed my college experience for the better.
Being a senior now, my tendency has become to give advice – because let’s face it, I am kind of an expert at this whole college thing by this point. If there were any one thing I could recommend to do in college, it would be to get involved with an extracurricular activity. I do not mean kind of involved where you show up to a meeting once a month. I mean so involved that when your name comes up, the first thing people talk about is how much you do for a certain organization. Once you do that, you can experience the same joy I have from Hillel.
Want to experience Israel for yourself? Registration for the next Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel – Rutgers University Trip (beginning of summer vacation 2015) opens on February 3, 2015 at 10 am ET. Previous applicants can begin registering on February 2, 2015 at 12 pm ET. To register, visit www.freeisraeltrip.org and list your school as “Rutgers” on the application.
JLIC is an OU Program in Partnership with Hillel