Last night I met up with some of my old friends from the Jewish Society at Oxford, and remembered how great of a time I had when I was in Oxford.Â I made a good chunk of my best friends during the relatively short time I spent there, and have stayed in remarkably close touch with the Oxford Jewish community.Â The Shabbatot I spent in Oxford were among the best of my life, and I often think back to that time and wish I could do it over again.Â Oxford was probably the best Jewish experience of my life, (which is really saying something, especially since it was followed by six months in Jerusalem).
What made Oxford so fantastic for me wasn’t a big Jewish community with loads of amenities like kosher restaurants, tons of shuls, and a big JCC.Â Instead, it was the warmth of the people, and the way I was quickly enveloped in a calendar of events that ranged from the purely social, to spiritual, to educational.Â We had bagel brunches and garden parties, studied text, and prayed together.Â My favorite part of every week was on Shabbat afternoon when we crammed twenty or thirty people into one little dorm room, passed around little packets of various junk food and snacks, sang zemirot and gave divrei Torah until it was time to do Havdalah.
My time in Oxford left me feeling more connected with Judaism, and more in love with the Jewish people than ever before or since (in no small part due to the amazing University Jewish Chaplaincy).
All this in spite of a tiny number of Jews in Oxford, one shul, and no kosher restaurants.
These days I live on Manhattan’s UWS.Â I can get kosher pizza, kosher sushi, or kosher crepes without walking more than three blocks from my apartment.Â There are probably twelve or thirteen good minyan options for me every Shabbat morning, and sometimes it seems like fully half of the men I see on the street are wearing kippot.Â And while I love my community here, and I have lots of friends, my time in New York has never approached the level of greatness I had in Oxford.Â Bigger is not better.Â It’s just bigger.Â And sometimes lonelier.
If you’re one of those people who lives in a relatively small Jewish community, from Iowa City, to Dublin to Nashville (all places where I’ve lived and fallen in love with the Jews) I just wanted to give you a vote of confidence and support.Â Big cities have some great resources, but Judaism can flourish anywhere.