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How My Sister’s Non-Jewish College Roommates Helped Her Celebrate Shabbat

A reminder of what we are at our best, in a world that too often showcases our worst

Yair Rosenberg
December 01, 2017
Wikimedia Commons
Harvard UniversityWikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
Harvard UniversityWikimedia Commons

As readers know, given my line of work, I spend a lot of time documenting all the ways people disparage and abuse Jews and other minorities. As a result, what I share can often be one-sided in its showcasing of humanity’s darker impulses. I do this because it’s important to root out discrimination, wherever it is found. But there’s always been more to the story than that—because people are better than that. I see this every day, and it’s what keeps me going. This week, it happened in my own life.

My sister is a freshman at Harvard. Now, being a religiously-observant Jew on a secular college campus can be daunting. It can involve explaining ostensibly odd practices—like keeping kosher and not using electricity on Shabbat—to classmates who’ve never heard of them, never knowing how you’ll be received and perceived. Sometimes, though, something beautiful can happen in the exchange.

My sister has two non-Jewish roommates. On Tuesday morning, she woke up to this sign that they made for her, celebrating her observance of the Jewish Sabbath:


Things to remember:

Dress beautifully
(so no differently than usual)

Switch off the lights
(just not in my heart)

Go to Hillel
*must not forget the roomies

Pray, remember, reflect, and God will smile all the wider

Cannot do CS50 all other boring stuff like that – because a day of rest is both necessary for the mind and the body

Must not forget:
“Give Shabbat a Shot”

Meet other members of Jewish community, and spread your endless love

These days, we hear a lot of stories about dysfunction on college campuses, some involving Jews, some ensnaring other groups. I’ve reported on some of them. But as by anti-Semitism in America, it’s far from the whole story.

Our country, our communities, and our universities can be messy, and we still have a lot of trouble negotiating our diversity. But we are also capable of amazing acts of kindness, inclusion, and empathy. The fact that my sister is in the best university in America just two generations after Europe nearly exterminated her grandparents’ generation is just bonkers. That her roommates have not only respected but embraced her distinctive practices and lifestyle—the very practices and lifestyle that have often been so reviled throughout history—is remarkable and heartening.

If you only spend your time online, in the world of internet outrage and harrowing headlines, it can be hard to see all this. But that is this country at its best and we need a whole lot more of it for more people.

Yair Rosenberg is a senior writer at Tablet. Subscribe to his newsletter, listen to his music, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.