5 Tips for University Success

By Ben Clayman

I was at minyan this morning and someone who I never met before gave me a Sholum after davening. We started speaking and he was quite shocked when I told him I am currently in a secular university. He then asked how I stayed tahor while being on campus. Having graduated university and I wanted to share some the insights, experiences, and tips for students and parents on how to strive and thrive in difficult environments in 5 easy to remember tips (Baal Teshuvahesque disclaimer: consult a Rav on any halacha and get the proper hadracha for any environment). .

1. Positive Attitude-
When I first came to university, I was negative, called a ‘grouch’ by one of my siblings. I did not want to be on campus, did not want to be out of yeshiva, and did not want to read Freud, Marx, Oedipus, or Foucault. I still wish I stayed in yeshiva and am going back the day I graduate, but once you are in a situation, thank Hashem and pray to be the best person you can be while you are there. Make the most out of your time on campus, it can be a serious tikkun hamiddos and wake you up to the needs of Am Israel. Learn what to say to an appikorus, solidify your beliefs, and practice kiruv.

2. Dress the Part-
I should preface this one by saying this worked, for me. It might not be for everyone and you might not be comfortable enough yet, but it was one of the greatest piece of advice R. Noach Weinberg zt’l gave me a few days before I started university three years ago. Be as flagantry Jewish as possible. I had a long beard and payos most of university. When I went back to Israel for the summer or was with my parents, I trimmed up but while on campus, I was “The Jew”. I could have hid my kippa or tucked in my tzitzis but I could never hide my beard. Once you wear the uniform of a Yid, you start to act more like a Yid (see Brachos 28a). This might be the toughest, but the benefits are well worth it, you can be a walking Kiddush Hashem on campus and give courage to other Yidden on campus to be more Jewish.

3. Don’t Waste Your Time-
A degree which will lead to nowhere is worthless. Listen to your passions and investigate your zeal for your interests. However, have a plan before going to college. I was able to finish in 3 years while taking the minimum amount of classes for almost every quarter by planning ahead. Take courses that will give you skills in the future or can help your emuna, I took an astrophysics course which was my lowest grade by far but was the greatest for marveling at Hashem’s greatness as the Creator of the Worlds. My chevrusa on campus was able to finish Shas Mishnayos, 5 mesechtas of Gemera and conversational Hebrew during his time in university, you have plenty of time to learn lots of sweet Torah while in school.

4. Offense is the Best Defense-
Do kiruv. As a student, you are a peer, not a rabbi or parent, who can show them that you are happy, love Torah and Mitzvos, and want to teach fellow students with no pressure. You also have the greatest social networking ability to help your campus Chabad or kiruv rabbis recruit. Volunteer with the rabbis on campus, start a chabura with the Modern Orthodox guys, become a NCSY advisor, or start a Jewish Heritage/History/Education club.

5. Experiment (Not What You Think)- I have not-yet-frum (I don’t like to say secular, frei, not frum, reform, or any other negative term) friends who speak a lot about finding themselves by experimenting in college. There are kosher ways to channel those actions. Spend a Shabbos in the frum community and go to the hardcore Hassidic community, build a Sukkah in the middle of campus with signs of “Free Gilad” or “Shake this Thing”, Take your friends to crash a random wedding (for the dancing only), spend Shabbos with professors or alumni, and question everything. The problem is not questioning, it is maintaining the resiliency to find the right answers.

I still would not recommend secular university to anyone, but if your parents insist, you are currently in the middle of university, or you are just starting to grow in Yiddishkiet, don’t despair. University is a crucible like any another that can be conquered and you can come out purified with the right amount of heat and a healthy dose of the above tips.

Originally Published in August, 2009

An Amazing Opportunity…To Help Jews On Campus

By Ben Clayman

A Little About Me: I am 20 years old, grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, and in the summer going into senior year of high school I went to Aish HaTorah quite randomly and came back frum. I now go back during my summer and winter breaks, by the way I am in university. Other interesting tidbits, I have a beard, sport curled peyos, and always can be seen with my tzizis out. Some would call me a flaming BT, I prefer “very enthusiastic”. I live in the Chabad House of the University of Chicago, am half Moroccan, went to Uman this Rosh HaShanah, am close to Chicago’s Ohr Somayach rabbis, and my Rebbe is Rav Noach Weinberg thus I follow Nusach Askenkaz of the Lithuanian Yeshivish flavor. At this point, you might be asking, “What is he getting at?” I am trying to hit home to encourage Ahavas Israel and give you a look at campus life for young Jews. We are rapidly growing bunch and we need your help…

Campus Life: Next order of business, let me first say unequivocally that sending your children to live on campus is dangerous, foolish, and near guaranteed to put them in an atmosphere that ranges from negative to hostile to a frum lifestyle. Not to say they won’t succeed, but it will leave scars. I have dozens of BT friends on campuses all around America. We have the following suggestions that would make our lives greatly improved.

1. Be Proactive. We have minyan 3x a day, only one person in our regular minyan has frum grandparents. I’ll let you infer as to what that means about the rest of the minyan. There are BTs out there on campus, if you live near one give a call to the Kiruv rabbi on campus, Chabad House, or Hillel and ask for their phone numbers and give them a call. Invite them over. If you are an alumnus, even if you don’t live near the school, giving a call to one can not only make your day, but could change the student’s life knowing that some random Jew loves them enough to call them and see how they are doing spiritually on campus.

2. ADOPT US! Don’t tell us “Give me a call for Shabbos” instead make us part of your family, We don’t have frum family, we don’t have ‘guaranteed’ Shabbos plans if things fall through with someone else, we don’t have a support network of Baal Baatim we can look up to as models living in both the Shul and workplace. We NEED you. After getting to know one of us, say to yourself, “I need to take responsibility for him” and sit him down and say, “You are permanently invited to our home, for meals, for a place to stay, for our Simchas, and for being an older brother/sister to our children for the next 4 years.” It will change their lives and yours.

3. Of course the professional Kiruv workers are doing amazing jobs, but for the already BT, life can be tough on campus. The battle for the hearts and minds of young Jews most often takes place on campus, speak to any Kiruv professional and they will tell you that most BTs come frum right after or during college. An age of change, open to new ideas, and outside their familiar environment, they explore their Judaism for the first time. When first coming to campus, nothing impressed me more then when a chair of a department invited me to his home for Shabbos. This chairman walks around campus with his untouched beard, black hat, and always a smile and time to say hello. A scientist in the medical school came to the student’s Mincha and invited us to learn Bava Kama with him during his lunch break. An alumnus invited us over on a permanent basis, he ‘adopted’ us while another alumnus made us feel part of the family by making sure we had Sedorim with their parents and a place to stay. A rebbe at a local high school said to us that if we ever needed a meal he would always be there for us. This is the kind of message that needs to be given to all BT students.

In Conclusion: Adopt a college student, don’t just speak about Ahavas Israel but live it through actions and be loud and proud, and if there are frum Yidden in the ultra-corrupting atmosphere of college campuses who can come out alright, we have nothing to fear. Additionally, I am starting a support group for college BTs to have an annual Shabbaton, share experiences, get mentors, and create a community that will bezras Hashem, will encourage others to do teshuvah.

Email me at clayman@uchicago.edu if you have any names of BTs at universities or your yourself are one and want to get involved or give feedback. Together, we can bring home countless Yidden.

P.S. In the comments, post if you yourself did teshuvah in college or currently help out on campuses.