I believe in my religion. More specifically, I believe in having the option to choose whether or not I believe in my religion.
When I first left home for college, I was away from my family and had the freedom to discover my own beliefs. I was quickly bombarded with questions about beliefs that had always felt so normal to me.
“Why are you following those rules?”
“Your mom isn’t even here.”
“Do you actually believe in God and all that stuff?”
My first semester in college was also my first time being away from my family on the Jewish holidays. When you’re used to sitting at a familiar table surrounded by 15 loved ones, imagine how it feels to be alone on a day that used to have a lot of meaning. Memories flooded in of laughter, tradition, and the lessons and prayers I was taught growing up.
Yom Kippur is a holiday of fasting. The time between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, to Yom Kippur is a 10-day period of looking back on the previous year’s sins and throwing them away for the new year to come.
I have always gone to Hebrew school and learned that we fast because Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, so on this day the Jewish people go 24 hours without any food or water. When this day came my first semester, I was presented with a new freedom. Should I even go to the holiday services provided? Do I believe in all of this religion? If I just fast for half the day, would it still kind of count?
This was the first time it occurred to me the real reason I have always fasted, the real reason I celebrated any holiday or followed any Jewish law, is because I was told I had to and because everyone around me did.
I did end up going to services that night, and I did fast for the whole 24 hours. And this time, it wasn’t because my mom made me or because I knew she would be disappointed if I didn’t. It was because I wanted to. The Jewish religion is so ingrained into the person I am; I couldn’t imagine not following the laws.
Judaism has always been a huge part of my life, because I was never given the choice for it not to be. Being away from home has shown me that it is now a part of my life by choice. I am now involved in Jewish groups and participate in Jewish activities on campus, which is a way to always have a part of my home and family here with me at Penn State.
Today, I can confidently say I believe in my religion--because this time, no one told me I had to.
Chelsea Tepel is a sophomore at Penn State majoring in global and international studies.