While my friends were planning a tailgate route and coordinating outfits for the Wisconsin game last Saturday, I found myself looking at my calendar. “October 3rd ... Why does that date hold a particular significance?” I thought. Suddenly, I remembered. The Wisconsin game coincided with Yom Kippur, one of the most important holidays in the Jewish religion.
Yom Kippur, the “Day of Repentance,” is a day of atoning for one's sins. Fasting is an important aspect of the holiday for many Jews. From sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, people observing the holiday refrain from consuming food or beverages, including water, and spend most of the day in prayer at synagogue services. Yom Kippur is known for being the most singularly observed holiday in the Jewish religion, as most Jews who do not practice on a regular basis still observe this holiday. It’s a day where one is not permitted to indulge in specific activities, such as washing, bathing, sexual relations and using cosmetics or perfumes. Clearly these traditions, especially fasting, are hard to maintain at tailgates and a football game. For the first time since I had arrived at Northwestern, I reached a realization that most students eventually come to – that students need to prioritize and not spread themselves too thin.
For some, the answer was simple. There was no question that they would attend services and skip the Wisconsin game. Compared to more observant students, the answer about how to spend my Saturday was not so clear-cut. I'm not very religiously observant, other than for the high holidays of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year which takes place ten days before Yom Kippur) and Yom Kippur. Entering college this year, I questioned whether I would observe the holidays without the usual pressure from my family to attend services. I felt torn between attending religious services or the game with my friends.
In the end, I attempted to have the “best of both worlds” – which turned out to be a failure. I skipped the tailgates, opting instead to go to services. But after I attended services, I went to the game – still without eating since sundown the night before. I found out the hard way that attending and enjoying the two coinciding events was not possible. I had to leave the game much earlier than planned because I felt faint and exhausted from fasting. As much as I tried to cheer on the Wildcats, I was unable to muster up the necessary vigor to endure the game and left shortly after kickoff. It was a disappointing feeling that I couldn’t be standing there in the crowd. Instead, I sat in the lounge of my dorm, watching the Wildcats clinch the unexpected victory over the No. 17 Badgers.
As a freshman, I am discovering that I have to make many more decisions on my own than I was used to. This I expected. As Saturday approached, I realized that attending religious services brought back the familiarity of home. I decided going to services would help me maintain a sense of normalcy in my new and often overwhelming life. Sometimes it is difficult to make these decisions about balancing religion and social events. How do we know what is best for us? Often I wish there was an easier way to choose how much I want to include the practice of religion into my life, but honestly I’m at a crossroad where my priorities aren’t necessarily defined quite yet. I wonder how other religious students decide, “Okay, I’m not going to go out late and hang out with my friends tonight because I have 9 a.m. services tomorrow morning.” For most people, maybe it is a continuous battle between secular obligations and the gut feeling that may push you towards making a social sacrifice for the upcoming religious holiday.
Sometimes the ultimate choice is not the easiest to make, but it is often the most necessary. As I’ve experienced, compromise isn’t always the right answer. I ended that day feeling unhappy, unsatisfied and stressed out from all the commitments I had failed to put myself into wholeheartedly. Most of all, I realized that my decision didn’t affect my parents in any way. Now, any decision I make is influenced by my own priorities, and I need to decide what those factors are in my life that come first. When I was younger, religious devotions often preceded any social event or conflict, as decided by my parents. However, it has come to the point where, as a non-religious student, I will make these decisions for myself based on what my priorities are, and I must assess my willingness to sacrifice certain social opportunities for religious practices.
The first few weeks as a new student were overwhelming in multiple senses, and it seemed that every decision I was making was crucial. I had to decide what classes to take and what extracurricular activities I wanted to join. Little thought was put into my religious practices until this conflict had arisen. It is now evident to me that I have to decide whether to include religion on my list as one of my top five priorities or place it at the bottom.
As busy Northwestern students, we must recognize that it sometimes is impossible to balance both religious and secular obligations that coincide. Whether it be a newfound faith or a sudden desire to find that familiarity of religion, it’s strange to realize that we are now on our own to make these faith-based decisions. These moments force us to choose. To do that, we must decide for ourselves what our priorities are. Even though that can be difficult, it will lead to a more meaningful engagement with one event.