Shabbos and Academia (Part 1)

In my junior year of college, my professor suggested that the paper I’d written for her class was good enough to present at NCUR (the National Conference for Undergraduate Research).

This was the first time I thought of my work as worth anything more than just classwork. It was also one of the first things that made me seriously think about pursuing a PhD.

My professor thinks my writing is good enough! For a national conference!

(My excitement and pride didn’t quite match the prestige of the conference…)

Before I even submitted my abstract, though, I emailed the Chabad at Ithaca College, that year’s conference location.

The rabbi emailed back saying that Ithaca College did not actually have its own Chabad. They do have kosher food, and they have some club meetings.

But since Cornell is nearby, the staff for these meetings, and the cooks and mashgiach, are “borrowed” from Cornell.

No problem, though. I emailed the Cornell Chabad and asked if they would have a place for me to stay, and if I could eat the shabbos seudos with them.

Sure! Of course! They’re a proper Chabad house, fully equipped to handle any Jew who’s stopping by for a day or two.

Once that was all settled,  I turned my attention to my paper.

I spent the next few weeks working with my professor to write an abstract for submission. I read sample abstracts, learned how to write in a whole new genre, and spent hours in her office talking to her about conferences, abstracts, graduate school… My sense of floating on a cloud of pride and excitement never abated.

Just before the deadline, I submitted my abstract. I also submitted a request to be scheduled for Thursday, to avoid any shabbos conflicts.

About a month later, I got an email saying my abstract was accepted.

My very first step when I saw the email, before even yelling and dancing with joy, was to contact the Chabad rabbi at Cornell to confirm that I would be sleeping in their guest room that Wednesday night through Saturday night.

Unfortunately, the rabbi had forgotten that I’d asked for a room, and there was a big group of students visiting from the Binghamton Chabad that week. They had the boys all sleeping in one room and the girls all sleeping in another, and there was no room for me.

I was, however, welcome to join them for shabbos meals.

So my careful planning had come to almost nothing. But even though this wasn’t ideal, I had now committed to presenting and had to make the best of it.

I looked at hotels in the area. Anything close to Cornell was crazy expensive (of course). But I used Google maps and figured that Best Western was only a 40-minute walk from Cornell. I’d walked that far from Boro Park to Flatbush multiple times, so I figured I could do it.

At the time, my sense of being airborne may have factored into this decision of walking long distances…

I checked in with my mother before booking the hotel. She thought this was a good solution.

With all that taken care of, I commenced yelling and dancing with joy.

Later that night, though, I told my father about it when he got home from work. I was ecstatic to be having this adventure, and I told him with a big bouncy smile that my paper was accepted to this national conference, and I was going to Ithaca!

He frowned. “On shabbos?”

“No, I asked them not to schedule me for shabbos. The conference is three days long.”

“Hmm… I don’t know… You’ll be there on shabbos, though, right?”

“Yeah, but I spoke to Chabad at Cornell, and it’s taken care of. I’ll be walking over and eating by them.”

“It sounds like you’re compromising. Everything is fine, but bidi’eved. You’re putting your schoolwork before shabbos, and even though you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re not being mechalel shabbos – you have your priorities wrong.”

The craziness of being accused of having my priorities wrong when I was bending over backwards to make sure I’d be able to keep shabbos and kosher – it was ludicrous.

Details of the shabbos itself coming soon…


3 thoughts on “Shabbos and Academia (Part 1)”

  1. > The craziness of being accused of having my priorities wrong when I was bending over backwards to make sure I’d be able to keep shabbos and kosher – it was ludicrous.

    I suspect that in your father’s mind, the overwhelming importance of Shabbos is part of how the world works. He probably didn’t see the conference as important at all. You were giving up having a “real” Shabbos to pursue an inconsequential hobby.

    And he wouldn’t see it as “bending over backwards,” as though this was something optional you were putting a lot of work into accommodating. You wouldn’t describe finding a hotel room as “bending over backwards” to find a place to sleep, no matter how difficult it was to find one.

    I get your frustration. But I think it’s important not to forget what it was like when we were still looking at things from the other side.


    1. I absolutely hear you on that. The funny part is, I thought I *was* still looking at things from the other side. This was the first moment when I realized that my father thought I was compromising when I thought I was just living… I was still totally *in* the community at this point, still planning on being frum forever, still meeting shdachanim who were setting me up on dates. I wasn’t seeing it as optional either, and I wasn’t making such strenuous efforts to please him – I was doing it because *I* would never have attended a conference that would make me break shabbos at that point.


      1. That’s why I think it’s ironic, and that’s why I’m so bitter about it – because I was being as frum as I thought he would want me to be, not for him and not for appearances but for myself – I was being real in my frumkeit, and it still wasn’t good enough for him.

        Hm. Maybe I’m not expressing that entirely right. I’ll work on getting my reaction and feelings across on this one some more 🙂


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