When I explained that as an Orthodox Jew there were certain behaviors I would never involve myself in, she laughed heartily, and yelled that information across the crowded room to her supervisor who told her that she should “tap me.” I turned so red with embarrassment that I actually thought my blood donation might be refused because I looked ill.
I used to hang out at the conference table in the student activities area after I had become a well-known student government leader. One time when I was working on a student government project, one of the senators decided she was going to say hello by draping herself over my shoulders. That was quite a shock, and I didn’t know what to say. After a few awkward moments I looked up at her and asked: “Can I help you?” She walked away.
In reality, though, I was right to be worried about this as a new student. I had limited experience interacting with women, and I suddenly found myself in classrooms with attractive and (in my view) inappropriately dressed women who were supposed to be my peers. It gets very cold in Chicago, and I had already been shocked by what the women wore in the dead of winter. And then there was summer. I never outgrew that discomfort as a college student, but that was actually a good thing, as I was able to maintain my full level of halachic observance without any real challenges.
Although there weren’t halachic issues, growing up in a homogenous community and school system also left me unprepared to interact with the culturally diverse population at NEIU. But more on that next time.
Chaim Shapiro, M.Ed is a social media consultant and a freelance writer currently working on a book about his collegiate experience. He welcomes comments and feedback at email@example.com or on his website: http://chaimshapiro.com/