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Credit: Catherine Liang

“That’s not very Christian of you.”

Sixth grade me would have furrowed her brows in confusion, and responded with a quick, “that’s because I’m Jewish,” unaware of just how deeply wrong the undercurrents of my classmate’s statements were. When I protested guided prayers at PTA meetings, or refused to back down in an argument about evolution, I found my beliefs largely isolated from those around me, and remarks such as the aforementioned one would rain down. 

Growing up in Orlando, Florida, I was lucky to share a faith with even two of my classmates (counting my twin sister.) All of my friends from elementary and middle school were brought up attending youth service and volunteering at their local churches. I was jealous of that sense of community, and regularly reminded that it was a community to which I did not belong.

Because I grew up yearning for a social sphere coincident with religious identification, I was awestruck and surprised by the amount of Jewish involvement on Penn’s campus. When Rabbi Micah Shapiro, who is Rabbinic Fellow for Innovation at Penn, reached out to me and offered to have a conversation with me about how to infuse my life with a faith that I had previously neglected, I was overwhelmed with the sense of community my middle school self had longed for. Aside from Shapiro's studies, his explorations include multi-instrumentalism, songwriting, and bandleading. My first day on campus, when I felt lost in a sea of newness, my feet drifted towards Penn Hillel. I quickly added my name and contact information to a sign-in sheet to denote my first visit and desire to be contacted in the future about Hillel events and, from there, a greater relationship bloomed. 

In 2015, Penn was the seventh most Jewish private university in the nation, with 17 percent of undergraduates identifying as Jewish. I’m not saying that everyone on campus needs to rush to Hillel for dinner, but I do think that it is important to appreciate the internal communities that Penn houses, and how those internal communities overlap. 

For example, being involved in Penn Hillel puts you in contact with different groups of people leading different lives. I would not know some of my closest friends had I not taken a chance on a faith that had been pretty much unexplored my entire pre-college life.

This isn’t something I would have realized had it not been for my first coffee conversation with Rabbi Micah. We talked about many things; pragmatic discussion of his plans to form a student group of singers and songwriters who would convene regularly and create art together; an exploration of my relationship to my faith; the new possibility of finding a personal definition for my Judaism. He listened without judgment, fear, or negativity, proving to me that a community can contain many definitions of the same bond that brings us all together. Whether you’re Jewish or not, uber religious or not, scared or not, I urge every student to find the spiritual advisor that best suits their beliefs and have a conversation with them.

College is a chance to grow not just in knowledge, but in confidence, strength, and dare I say, belief. Belief in yourself or in whatever you chose to focus on. Penn offers us these advisors, so why not take the chance?  


SOPHIA DUROSE is a College freshman from Orlando, Florida studying English. Her email is sdurose@sas.upenn.edu

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