Excerpt from Chapter I: My Wake-Up Call

. . . You can imagine my surprise when one day our dorm housemother asked to see me privately and told me that I would not receive a dorm room assignment for my sophomore year. Moreover, my prospective roommates were all summoned, one by one, and advised to find someone other than myself to room with for our sophomore year. The housemother informed them I wasn’t going to be allowed to continue living on campus. They were shocked by that information. But they refused to select anyone else.

When I pressed our housemother for more information, she suggested that I speak to one of the major campus administrators, because my case was “special.”

“Why is it special?” I asked. “He’ll tell you,” she said, her eyes shifting uncomfortably.

I made an appointment to see the Director of Admissions. My roommates waited nervously in our old dormitory, hopeful that I could arrange everything in short order, and that our housing problem would soon be resolved.

I entered a spacious office and noted the traditional mahogany furniture, forest green wallpaper, and a Tiffany desk lamp.

“You shouldn’t be living on campus to begin with,” the administrator told me immediately after I was seated. He wasted no time in coming to the point. “You live within commuting distance, and we need room for students who come from far away.”

“But I have been living on campus for two semesters,” I protested. “What about the students who live only ten minutes away and who are allowed to live on campus?”

“Well, that’s different,” he countered, “because their mothers are involved in sorority affairs, and because they are good students.”

“But I have a straight “A” average and I am very active on campus in extracurricular activities as well,” I said in my defense.

"Nevertheless, it’s just impossible,” he insisted. “So, why don’t you consult with your rabbi?” he suggested and then paused for effect.

My mouth opened and closed. I watched his face with disbelief. Why did he suddenly mention my rabbi? Why did the issue of my religion suddenly come up in a conversation that had nothing to do with religion? I couldn’t believe what I had heard him say. My rabbi? Did he even know where I prayed or if I prayed? And how did he know that I was Jewish? Slowly it dawned on me what was happening!

I remembered that I had indicated my religious affiliation on my university application. At that time every student was required to submit a photo and indicate his/her religious affiliation.

I looked at him for a long time before I replied. His gaze never wavered.

“Why would I want to ask my rabbi?” I queried innocently.

“Well, perhaps he could help you find housing with a Jewish family near the university.”

“And why would I need to look for housing with a Jewish family?”

“You know, for dietary reasons,” he explained, his fleshy hand gesturing expansively to demonstrate his generosity and good will. And then he smiled. I will never forget that smile.

I had just encountered my first interfaith minefield, and I can still feel the shrapnel in my solar plexus, and hear the sound of the explosions in my head—my first wake-up call.