Home Away From Home
November 24, 2023
By Iris Danziger, MD​


In this week’s Torah portion, Vayetze, Jacob is running away from his brother Esau after stealing his birthright. This act of deception leaves Esau feeling violent towards Jacob. At the urging of his mother Rebecca, Jacob is told to leave fearing for Jacob’s life. He is told to go to Haran where he has family and hopefully will find a wife from within his own people.

This is where Jacobs’ spiritual and transformational journey begins. Jacob finds himself traveling alone in the desert. He has left the home and family he has always known. His trip has all the discomfort and fears that traveling alone can have: he feels vulnerable with no familiar comforts. He uses a stone for a pillow and tries to protect himself from the dangers that could be lurking in the desert at night. During his fitful night he dreams of a ladder with angels and is met by Gd who promises protection and a land.

Throughout this portion, much family drama ensues as Jacob struggles with his uncle Laban and his wives struggle with each other. Jacob will continue to feel the threat from Esau from one direction and later from the other direction as he leaves his abusive father in-law, Laban. With his wives, children and livestock in tow Jacob will negotiate his way toward resolution

with both Esau and Laban. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l wrote this is what makes us the people of Jacob and not of Abraham or Isaac. It all happens when Jacob is alone with himself. He struggles with humans and GD. It’s in that struggle that he forges his identity and becomes Israel.

So too do college students leave their families and comfortable homes to enter the next stage of their lives. Compelled by their families and excited for new challenges they leave home for college. They leave to live with strangers. They are embarking on a period of emotional, intellectual, interpersonal, physical and spiritual challenges. Students are there not only to forge a career path but to experience the world through new lenses, to take everything in and re-define themselves.

This year however Jewish students on college campuses have faced an additional challenge. With the outbreak of the war between Israel and Hamas Jewish students have experienced harassment, intimidation, threats and even violence on campus. Students feel a change on social media, in dorms, with friends, when walking to class and in classrooms.

As a result, students are reaching out to Hillel in greater numbers. Hillel is providing a trusted voice toward understanding our Jewish history in the context of this war. Hillel has been a place to create educational campus activities on the conflict, for vigils, marches and responses to antisemitism wherever it is found. Hillel students are taking action, showing pride, love and support for Israel.

Now more than ever Hillel is a place where Jewish students can feel safe, understood but more importantly a place where they can find Jewish Joy. For those Jewish students and faculty not involved programmatically with Hillel they are additionally benefiting from all that Hillel is doing. That’s because Hillel makes a difference for everyone.

Just as Jacob becomes Israel from all the vulnerability and hazards that he encounters on his journey this too will help us become a stronger people Israel. Please consider a generous gift to Hillel of Buffalo as Hillel of Buffalo continues its vital work for students, you and the whole Jewish world.  Click HERE to donate today.

Am Yisroal Chai!

Iris Danziger, MD is an otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose & Throat specialist). A proud alumna of University of Buffalo, she currently serves as the President of the Hillel of Buffalo Board of Directors.




Home Away From Home - Jewish Thought of the week 2022