Choose Life

May 20, 2016

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Most rabbis have the luxury of building relationships with their congregants that grow and change over the course of decades. They get to see their congregants’ life cycle events, be with them during times of joy and grieve with them during times of sorrow. The college campus, however, is not a normal community. Students are generally not around for decades (at least their parents hope that they are not). After about four years, most students move on to their next adventure, readying themselves to take on new challenges and opportunities. It is the campus rabbi’s job to help give them some of the tools necessary to be prepared for life when they depart the campus.

Graduation at many colleges and universities across the country just took place, including our local Christopher Newport University and the College of William and Mary. At both of these schools, hundreds of students graduated and moved on to the next stage of their young lives. Many of the Jewish graduates were very involved in Hillel, and while it was wonderful to see them move on, it is hard to imagine campus life without them. Our Jewish students are very committed, very intelligent and very motivated in everything they do. They set a very high standard for themselves and are not satisfied until they surpass their goals. Graduation is a very happy time for the graduates and their families, but it can also be a scary time. What will they do next? Where will they live? What job or internship will they get? What new relationships are about to begin? All of these questions and more are stressing in the minds of a young 21– 22-year-old, just beginning their life journey—out of school for the first time since they were five years old.

What do we wish for these young Jewish men and women? I was asked to speak at this year’s Baccalaureate ceremony at the College of William and Mary. In that speech I quoted a verse from the Torah, “I have placed before you life and death, blessing and curse. You shall choose life, so that you will live, you and your offspring.” (Deuteronomy 30:19) I told the graduates that just because they were leaving their college experience did not mean that anything had ended, but rather this time should be seen as a beginning.

It is now that life actually begins. It is now that they have to start using the information they learned at home and in school to “Choose life.” As Jews we should be making choices through the lenses of the Torah, through the lenses of our ethics and morals. As Jews we need to always act in a holy way, not just in a popular way. As Jews, we recognize that success is not defined by what we have, but rather by what we do. It is my hope and prayer that we can all be inspired by the graduating class of 2016. Let us always, “Choose life” by doing what is right, not necessarily just what is convenient.

by Rabbi Gershon Litt

Rabbi Gershon Litt is the executive director at the Norfolk Kollel, rabbi at Adath Jeshurun Synagogue, director of the Hillels at William and Mary and CNU, and rabbi of the Commodore Levy Chapel at Naval Station Norfolk.

 

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