Dear Lauren,

I’m going to college in a couple of weeks and I’m pretty nervous. I don’t know anyone there, and I know college is different than high school; lots of people from lots of places, etc. I’m kind of afraid I’m going to feel lost. Do you have any advice for me?

Lauren Roth's Answer

Our very close family friend once brought Rabbi Daniel Lapin to Memphis, Tennessee, to speak at Rhodes College. He began his speech by asking the (predominantly non-Jewish) audience: “Why is it that Jews are so successful? Is it because they’re smarter than other people? Is it because they work harder than other people do? Is it because they’re just better than other people?”

Our friend relates that he was in the audience, cringing and biting his nails off, mortified and terrified, thinking, “What in the world is this guy gonna say?!”

And then Rabbi Lapin answered his own question. “Why is it that Jews are so successful? I’ll tell you why: it’s because they have the power of community. If a Jewish person needs a lawyer, another Jewish person recommends a good Jewish lawyer that she knows. If a Jewish person needs a doctor, then another Jewish person recommends a good Jewish doctor that he knows. If a Jewish person needs a job, another Jewish person knows another Jewish person who has an opening in her business. Jews have an automatic, built-in network, and it’s called a ‘community.’ And I suggest you acquire a community for yourselves, too, if you want to be successful.”

Needless to say, our friend relaxed (after wiping his brow!).

I'm certainly not saying that non-Jews are not kind, caring, and bonded. I’m just saying that Jews have a special, immensely strong, incredibly rationality-defying bond with each other that you can use to find your place in your new school. Go to the Hillel House. Go to the Jewish fraternities or sororities if your college has them. Go to Sabbath services. Go to Shabbat meals. Check out if there is a Maimonides program on your campus. You’ll find a community there ready to welcome you with open arms. A community of your brothers and sisters!

Your Jewish brothers and sisters will take care of you. Seek them out, and you’ll find a friendly place.

The other day, I was invited to a local newspaper, along with other Jewish people from my town. They wanted to do some stories on our community and wanted our input. I was a few minutes late to the meeting, because, as I explained to the (not Jewish) reporters and editors in attendance, I had to finish making dinner for a family on my block, because they had just had a new baby. Honestly, they were amazed. Because random people in America don’t have that kind of connection with the people they live with or go to school with.

That’s the treasure you are privy to. That’s your birthright. And it can help you find a comfortable place in a foreign situation.

Speaking of foreign situations: as I wrote about last week, I was in Japan earlier this summer. For Shabbat, we went to Hong Kong. As I was walking to my hotel on Friday afternoon to get ready for the Sabbath, I heard someone talking on his cell phone, in English (how exciting!!)...and then he said “Ok, honey, have a good Shabbos.” I whirled around—I couldn’t believe it! It was like encountering my brother, all the way across the world, in China! It turns out he was the brother-in-law of my neighbor! That’s finding a comfortable, familiar place in a foreign situation. That’s your birthright. That can help you find your niche in college.

At that same meeting at the newspaper, a reporter whose beat is my town told the group that she had written a story about a Jewish woman and her children. Their house had been demolished by a fire. And she said, “I felt so good, because normally these tragedies leave the victims out in the cold, struggling to survive, fallen on hard times. But I knew this woman and her children would be taken care of by the community. I had no doubt she would be given everything she needed, and more.”

Your Jewish brothers and sisters will take care of you. Seek them out, and you’ll find a friendly place.

I keep nice messages on my answering machine. I love going back and listening to all the comments from friends and missives from family and all the funny messages that have punctuated my life and the life of my family over the past few months. (Every few months I transfer them all to my computer and actually have some space on the machine for new messages!) Message #52 is the one left just after Hurricane Sandy last year: “Lights are out all over town! If you have no power, come to Bais Faiga and we will provide you with free dinner, free entertainment for your kids, and a warm, lit space to spend the evening. Bring your cell phones and cell phone chargers so you can recharge. Anyone without power is welcome!” How incredible is that?

I have no doubt that the Jewish communal gathering space at your college will be a place for you to recharge—in more ways than one.

Of course, college is a fantastic place to learn about the world and to meet people from all walks of life and to delve into the diversity of America. And the best way to do that is to find your brothers and sisters, find a strong, solid home base to operate out of, and to explore the diverse college atmosphere from there.

When I was in Princeton, I had that kind of home. It was called “Stevenson.” Stevenson was the name of the kosher eating hall where the synagogue was and where the Jewish activities were held. That was my real home at college. And I had a fantastic experience exploring the entire university from that home base.

Look for the Jewish gathering place at your university, and you’ll feel at home, too.