Dear Rachel,

I’m a college sophomore. About a year ago, through Chabad on Campus, I started learning what it means to be Jewish. Up until then, I was Jewish in name only, and even that with a small “j.” Little by little, I started going to Jewish events and taking on observance.

I have three good friends I found in freshman year, and we’re a real foursome. One day, we decided to go ice-skating and I wore a jean skirt so as not to call attention to the fact that I was wearing a skirt. Well, turns out the place didn’t allow jeans, even skirts. One of my friends offered to lend me a pair of pants she had in her car, but I refused. When I said they could go without me, they offered to go out to eat instead. But then, I wouldn’t go to our usual cafe, having just taken on kashrut. I suggested the kosher pizzeria; we went there, but they weren’t thrilled with it or with me. They basically implied that I had ruined the evening with my religious craziness, that I wasn’t the same person anymore. I said wearing skirts and eating kosher doesn’t make you a different person.

They’ve been cool to me ever since, and I suspect that they’ve been going out to have fun without me. I could use some advice.

Hurt and Confused

Dear Brave and Deep,

College is a place where we do a lot of changing, the least of which is academic. Independent for the first time and surrounded by all kinds of social opportunities, many students explore who they are and who they want to be.

It’s wonderful that you decided to explore what being Jewish with a capital “J” means. Taking it slowly is the right way to go and means that you are doing so thoughtfully. However, people around you may not see it that way. They think you aren’t the same person anymore because they are judging by superficial changes like what you wear and what you eat.

On the other hand, your friends do have a point when they claim that you are not the same person anymore because your belief system is changing. Every mitzvah you do changes who you are inside, spiritually and emotionally. That’s what mitzvahs are supposed to do, and because you’re doing so gradually, you may not notice it.

I understand that you want to keep your friendships. Here are a few suggestions that might make the transition easier while not stressing your social life too much.

  1. When planning to go out with your old group of friends, clarify your limitations beforehand. You don’t have to offer lengthy explanations, just that being a religious Jew means you can’t do X or Y. Find activities that you can all enjoy without putting yourself in a compromising situation.
  2. Have a mentor to confer with regarding what’s OK and what isn’t so you’re not being too stringent or too lenient.
  3. Don’t be afraid to explain your actions. Your friends may be feeling confused and excluded, and afraid that they’re going to lose you. For example, you can explain that the same way that the ice-skating rink has a dress code, so does Judaism. Explain without preaching or sounding self-righteous. This will also help you clarify Judaism in your own mind, and as a bonus, you might end up teaching something to your friends as well.
  4. Feel secure in your choices and that will come across to others. It’s a wonderful new world that you are exploring. Enjoy your new discoveries.
  5. As you participate more in the Jewish activities on campus, you will make new, like-minded friends who are on the same journey as you. You will feel comfortable sharing your new experiences with them, and your social circle will widen.
  6. What about your old friends? You don’t have to give them up, and many of them will respect your journey and adapt to the new you. But when we change, especially in such an intrinsic way, we may have to bid farewell to parts of our past, and that may include some of the people who live there. While you can certainly work to maintain your old relationships, it shouldn’t reach the point where you feel uncomfortable so as to hang on to them. Let them go gracefully, holding on to the warm memories while embracing the new you ... and you won’t end up skating on thin ice.

Wishing you much success!