Chabad on Campus I love you

The kid I was sitting next to really reminded me of myself. He had barely sat down and already he had an ever growing mound of food, scavenged from other tables. I told him that he should head for parts of the table which had the highest concentration of hot skinny girls wearing leggings. They don’t eat. He nodded in agreement as he shoved another piece of gefilte fish into his mouth and motioned for more humus to be brought. I was reminded of my own campus Chabad days in Albany, where I would hoard salads and other items that people had finished knowing that the best parts of the salad always ended up discarded on the bottom of the bowl, drowning in juices.

I longed for my fressing days — the days when I would come into Shabbos starving from not having eaten all day in preparation for a pig out session. I’m 28 and civilized and can’t do that anymore. The people I go to have manners and are a bit proper for my taste. Since I moved to California I have only met one family with which I feel perfectly comfortable sitting around in my underwear. Now I have to admit, I don’t know many underwear comfort families but I do long for the days of food hoarding.

My tablemate would have been a great Kiddush companion. We would have locked arms and clotheslined little old ladies on the way to the cholent bowl. We could be the kings of the Kiddush anarchists club and I do admit I felt a little kinship to this fressing fellow sitting down next to me. I felt a touch of love when he took two pieces of chicken at once and shepped mad nachas when it became apparent that he was known for his hunger and angst to do the mitzvah of shabbos menucha through eating like a steam shovel. He was known well enough for others at the table to bring offerings to him of leftover salad and soup.

I have become more controlled in my eating habits within the last year or so. I was nevertheless mortified when I walked into the dining room after shul to find no seats. Would I be left alone in the kitchen to pick off the half eaten platters served to everyone who didn’t show up at minyan? Was this Gods way of saying that those who go to minyan aren’t as good as those who find seats early? I pondered this as I looked around at some of the very cute girls who were already sitting down. I guess I wasn’t going to find my shidduch in my seat-less position.

Speaking of seating, all of our lives would be drastically different if not for a negative pre-disposition to ending up with nebs rather than hotties. Singles events, Shabbos dinners and pesach sedarim have all shown me that I am destined for a life of nebbish men while the married people get to talk to the hot single girls. What’s the deal, man? Luckily there were other students who showed up late and didn’t have to stand around awkwardly at boruch hu as the rabbi scrambled to find a minyan. Someone to began to mumble about there being a minyan already and I had to resist the urge to explain the awkward situation of Chabad minyanim gathering philosophy. I am almost sure that part of the Chabad semicha program discusses the art in disarming the awkward “15 men no minyan” situation. It happens quite often and there is a certain art that goes along with it. How do you make it seem like nothing is wrong when you are really trying to figure out if Chris Cohen is Jewish or not?

If disarming the awkward minyan situation is tough, imagine having your kids wonder about the lesbian Hillel rabbi and her partner. These are some of the reasons that the yeshivish kiruv machine is having trouble on campus. Chassidic philosophy is just so much more lenient when it comes to life while the mussarnicks or shall we call them chumrish folks do not know how to deal with these things. This is aside from the fact that most Lakewood couples aren’t willing to risk their 3 year old daughters shidduch market value devaluation for a couple of years in some place like Vermont. Only recently have they started to have success but I can just see the cringes coming from an Israeli gay activist getting up at a Shabbos meal to talk about an event – while Chabad rabbis remain cool and composed.

UC Santa Cruz has the distinction of having an Israeli gay activist shliach. The rebbe didn’t send him here to conduct gay mivtzoyom, he was sent here by the Israeli government to show that Israel is open about gays. I actually think that’s kind of cool. Why can’t the charedim send some emissaries to campus and show that pyromania is all the rage and that fire dances are held regularly on motzoi Shabbos to celebrate fun events like parking lots?

Part of the reason I love campus Chabad so much has to do with the prime BT watching you get to do. Almost all of my best Baal Teshuva posts came from the fact I lived next door to Chabad on campus at the University of Albany and having a bunch of crazy BT friends who were sipping the Koolade didn’t hurt either. Some dude at my table was trying to teach me, the long haired hippie looking guy, that we don’t eat fish and meat on the same plate. I’m not sure where the next part of the conversation came from but he mentioned that the Sephardim don’t have an oral law. I think he mixed up Sephardim with the Karaites.

Then there was this dude with braided peyos who wore his tzitzis yeshivish style and had a bike chainring bottle opener on his belt. It was good to know that a cyclist was drinking the punch. I just hope he maintains his cycling love throughout his frumming out process. One of my biggest pet peeves about baalei teshuvas is when they give up their passions. Some of their passions go hand and hand with being a torah Jew, yet due mostly to being image and wanting to be socially accepted by their FFB peers, they give things up that they “used to love” before they became frum. I am not talking about watching porn and eating pig on a spit, I am talking about things like fishing, collecting antiques or cycling.

There was another guy who looked like he had drank the punch a while ago and was a full fledged frum dude, who had ridden his bike 75 miles to come for shabbos. That is my kind of frummy. Not only did he ride his bike, he rode a single speed piece of crap (hipsters call them vintage) bike with panniers down the pacific coast highway from San Francisco to Santa Cruz: totally ridiculous. Ridiculous enough for me to want to find this guy a cool shidduch. That’s another thing I’ve been thinking about lately, making shidduchim between the cool people I know. I don’t know many of them because weird and interesting orthodox Jews are hard to find but they definitely exist.

Someone got up to speak, at about the ten minute mark the cell phones came out. Under the table text messaging is the new disturbance that rabbis have to deal with. It must be one of those things talked about on the listserve. If any Chabad rabbi is reading this and wants to let me into the infamous listserve, I really could use the material it would provide. I feel that rabbis should have a sign to check your cell phones at the door. Is texting your friend that important that once a week you can’t put it down for ten minutes? I can almost imagine that people sitting next to each other were texting. I find cell phones to be incredibly rude and I usually leave mine in the car. This was Friday night so I didn’t have it on me.

The speech was about Israel and what it means to us. The speakers were both professors and they both spoke well. The first question after their speeches was “do you you think Israel should remain a Jewish state?” Strange I think but I have heard stranger. I think it was the first time I have ever heard such a politically correct question answer session and speech about Israel advocacy. There was no mention of Arabs or settlements. It was more about identity — that seems to be the next catchphrase, I have noticed all of the progressive websites using identity as their slogan.

People stayed longer than I imagined they would but, sure enough one or two students left and then almost half the place cleared out. Then someone struck up Am Yisrael Chai and felt the chills. I just felt so grateful towards Chabad for providing these kids with this experience. I remembered why I am a staunch advocate and defender of Chabad in Jewish media. It is because they do things that all other orthodox Jews aren’t willing to do.

If you think about it, campus Chabad is one of the hardest jobs. You are trying to engage kids that are finally free from their parents in old fashioned ways in a free environment where partying is key, and yet 90 kids are sitting at a strange meal on a Friday night when they could be hanging out in a tree smoking herb (on the UC Santa Cruz campus there is a redwood tree where everyone hangs out) or drinking in their frat houses. It’s pretty incredible how these places even stay afloat. You have these kids that don’t understand the concept of tzedaka or donations that may or may not donate anything after they leave. It’s not like a regular Chabad where you have working individuals that don’t cycle through every four years. Not to mention having your children exposed to things you may not wish for them to be exposed. I have always marveled at Chabad on campus families with campus aged children living at home — aidel Chabad girls hanging out with frat guys their own age – yet, it works very well and Chabad has changed the face of the college campus forever.

Even if you happen to be a Chabad-hater, it would be hard to say bad things against Chabad on Campus.