By: Lindsay Brandwein | Opinions  | 

Chipotle on Shabbat Shalom

During senior year of high school, the last thing anyone wants to hear is “you will end up where you’re supposed to be.” To every senior, that basically translates to “well, you’re not getting into your top choice school so I’m trying to make you feel better.” But somehow, you really do end up where you’re supposed to be and sometimes it's a place no one expects. Or a place you didn’t even know existed, like Stern College for Women.

I attended a Reform Jewish high school in Davie, Florida where none of my friends kept kosher and where students wore shorts as a school uniform. In this school, you never heard about Yeshiva University. The University of Florida? Of course you’d heard of that, along with constant talk about tailgating during football season. You might have had those two or three friends who wanted to move to Israel, join the Israeli army, maybe even become religious. I was definitely not that friend. Case in point: In the yearbook, I, along with one of my best friends, was named “life of the party.” Needless to say, I was not the ideal Stern candidate.

When I heard back from all of the universities I applied to, I was ready to commit to the University of Central Florida where my older brother and younger sister attend. Of course, I made it a big deal and thought, “OMG I’m not ready to commit yet.” I decided to wait to make my decision until after the weekend. The next Monday, Josh Pransky, former Director of Recruitment and Alumni Affairs for the YU Athletics Department, happened to be at one of my school basketball games. Josh called women’s basketball Head Coach Michal Alon who flew down to watch me later that week. They proposed to me the idea of coming to YU on an academic scholarship — because Division III schools don’t offer athletic scholarships — and invited me to an unofficial visit. The next week, my family and I flew up to New York City. The first place the tour took me was the beit midrash — probably not the best location for me to see first.

Later that night, I observed basketball practice. The next night, I went to watch the girls play a basketball game. During the game, I looked at my brother and said, “Jason, there is no way I will ever come here.” But somehow, that August, my mom and I flew up to New York City, and I moved into Brookdale Residence hall, room 16E.

Not knowing what to expect — in terms of school, my roommates and especially the religious aspect — I showed up in shorts and a t-shirt. I don’t think I’ve been checked out more in my life than when I was standing in that line waiting to get into the dorm. The number of girls that looked me up and down was extremely uncomfortable.

And the looks didn’t stop there. Have you ever brought Chipotle into Brookdale? Probably not. Well, that’s how you get a Stern girl’s attention. But I knew from the start that I stood out. During the first day of orientation, one of the deans pulled me aside and said, “You know there is a dress code, right?” I replied, “Oh I might have not gotten that email, I will go out and get a skirt right after this.” Ever since then, I keep an emergency skirt in my backpack. Clearly, I didn’t (and still don’t) have “Stern girl swag.” The only thing that connected me to this place was the fact that I am proud to be Jewish, even if my definition of that is different from my roommates’, classmates’, teammates’ and professors’.

I grew up in a Jewish home where attending Shabbat dinner was both mandatory and much anticipated. After dinner, you could do whatever you want. Shabbat dinner has been a tradition since before I was born; we have many families over. That is how I have always seen and still see Shabbat. It’s a tradition, and it is special as long as you make it special.

During my first week at Stern I discovered many crazy things. One of them is that Shabbat, the thing that I always associated with Friday nights, actually starts on Wednesday. During my first week at Stern, all of my classmates would say “Shabbat Shalom” to our professor after class. Intrigued by this, I decided to start a new “trend” where I take in all that Shabbat Shalom has to offer, starting with an official name change: from Shabbat to Shabbat Shalom. Along with the “official name change,” I also learned to enjoy Brookdale Residence Hall’s emptiness on Thursday nights. I never thought that my Thursday nights in college would consist of chillin’ with the security guards, who, by the way, are all hilarious. I remember calling my mom to tell her I might need to book a flight home to Florida for the weekend because the dorms were closing. It feels like all Stern girls go home Wednesday night and manage to never have class Thursday. They usually start to make their way back to the dorms Monday after classes.

My most memorable Shabbat Shalom experience is going to a Shabbat Shalom lunch where my job was to get drinks. I got some ice teas, lemonades and, of course, grape juice. Who would think there is grape juice that isn’t kosher? Well, fun fact: Welch’s isn’t kosher! It’s a good thing I was going to my teammate’s apartment. It was a good shtick. We all laughed hysterically and they said, “classic Lindsay.” My teammates have embraced me for who I am.

Freshman year was rough and this year has still consisted of Chipotle stares (but no more accidental run-ins with the Dean). My wish is to show the students that this school isn’t as accepting as many of them make it out to be. To all the students: think twice when signing up for Shoshana Schechter’s class; you might want that easy ‘A’ but not all of us went for shana bet and became homies with Rashi. Let those who need it take the class. And yes, I dressed myself this morning, so I know I am not wearing a skirt and you don’t have to stare at me in the 215 elevators — but I will take it as a compliment anyway.

But the hardest part about going to Stern isn’t Shabbat Shalom or getting into a Shoshana Schechter class. Rather, it is watching my classmates get confused about what they want in life. They may be religious, but many of them don’t understand why they are wearing skirts and oftentimes are too afraid to ask why. Maybe my purpose here is to show them that it is okay to be unsure of who you are. I challenge Stern in the most respectful way and I make it my own. I respect the rabbis but I challenge them because all my thoughts are almost unheard of — every other student has been learning the same types of Torah lessons since they were children.

Someone recently asked me, “If you could give one piece of advice to an incoming freshman what would it be?” I replied, “Stern can be anything you make it.” You can choose to get married before you’re legal to drink. You can explore one of the greatest cities in the world and take advantage of the opportunity it brings you. When walking to class, I can’t help but smile. Listening to music, holding a cup of coffee and walking from Park Avenue to Lexington Avenue is a dream come true for many people.

I really do believe everyone ends up where they are supposed to be. For some reason, the biggest beach bum ended up in a concrete jungle. For some reason, a Reform Jew ended up in an Orthodox university. For some reason, she is still in New York City learning to love it and embracing every moment. She is unsure of the reason at the moment, but can definitely say that it has been one of her greatest adventures so far.


Photo Caption: Have you ever brought Chipotle into Brookdale? Probably not.
Photo Credit: Lindsay Brandwein