I descend the stairs of 620 on Saturday morning and position myself by the doors. I wait one minute, five minutes, 10, then 15. Finally, a fellow resident returns from her morning run and I slip out the door before it closes.
As a Sabbath observer, using electricity is one kind of activity I cease starting Friday at sundown until Saturday night, as well as on additional holidays. This means that the automatic doors of my residence hall are off limits during these periods.
In the first few weeks of school, the doors were under construction and didn’t open themselves when pulled. Then, on Yom Kippur, I noticed freshly laid yellow stickers proclaiming, “CAUTION: AUTOMATIC DOOR” and knew things were about to get complicated.
I consulted Housing about the possibility of propping open the doors for Sabbath and holidays. They thanked me for bringing this issue to their attention and agreed to figure out the logistics with Public Safety.
When the festival of Simchat Torah began some time later (yes, I am aware that there is an inordinate amount of Jewish holidays in the fall), I found that the doors were closed and the details were still in the works. Propping the doors open proved an inadequate solution as the weather turned colder. So I waited.
Sometimes, only a few minutes passed before another person entered or exited the building. Other times, I got lucky and there was no wait at all. One night, returning from the annual Simchat Torah ceremony on Low Steps, I made it through the first door but not the second. Stuck in the foyer, I reflected on the evening’s events until another resident came along.
In celebration of completing the Five Books of Moses with a weekly readings at services, the Torah scrolls were dressed in embellished felt covers and passed between members of the Jewish community amid song and dance. Toward the end of the festivities, the Torahs were paraded down Broadway, through Columbia’s gates, and onto College Walk. Students from all denominations formed a large circle around the students holding them, linking arms and singing liturgical songs of unity. It was an immensely powerful moment, looking around from Butler to Low and feeling like this University provides a place where all are able to express their faith freely, openly, and proudly.
My life as a religious student at Columbia is not one of constant transcendent experiences. There are moments of euphoric clarity, but there are also mundane emails to Housing regarding the use of electricity on the Sabbath. This campus enriches my religious identity, but occasionally leaves me stuck between two doors when all I want to do is kick off my shoes and flop into bed.
Combining one’s religious life and college experience comes with challenges. Though the details of solutions are often still in the works, it is heartening to know that the doors are always open.
Well, figuratively, anyway.
The author is a Barnard College sophomore. She is the leader of Columbia/Barnard Hillel’s Jewish Women on Campus.
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