Over spring break I had the honor of traveling with an interfaith group of Williams students and chaplains to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to help rebuild a community destroyed in the 2011 tornado disaster. During the day, our group hammered nails and fit siding onto what would soon become John and Pam Nero’s new home. At night, we discussed faith and service, each of us bringing forth our unique traditions and experiences in a setting comparable to any classroom at the College. These discussions, as well as trips to various local centers of faith and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, provided our group with the rare opportunity to discuss life, morality and service with other Ephs away from the stresses of school.
Faith (or the lack thereof) is a subject many of us do not focus on during our time at the College. With commitments in the classroom, on the field and in the community, it is easy to get carried away by the never-ending set of challenges and opportunities that the purple bubble places before us. We live fast-paced, rigorous lives and understandably this leads us to skim over the trickier questions that do not impact our day-to-day existence. While we can talk about politics, art and economics for hours on end, personal belief is left for a rainy day.
However, what I believe “interfaithing” taught our group is that faith and personal beliefs should not be kept boxed up during our time at the College. Yes, we do go to a secular liberal arts institution, but whatever faith or worldview we hold plays an integral role in how we adapt to the Williams community and how we choose to maneuver through our four years of academic and social experiences here. Indeed, our time here will most likely challenge or even change the way we understand life and the world around us whether we notice this change or not. Taking the time to reflect upon and question your own views as well as learn about those of others around you will not only help you to better come to terms with your college years but will also allow you to profit from a type of diversity you may never again experience in your lifetime.
Not all of us need to attend services each week or go to every Shabbat dinner, although I highly recommend it. But we all need to realize the importance of faith and belief in shaping the College community and society at large. In Tuscaloosa, I met a contractor who moved his family every few years according to where he felt G-d needed him most. And we met the Nero family, who described their faith as leading them through the storm that decimated their neighborhood and giving them a second chance at life as well as a new roof over their heads. Coming from a relatively secular background, these conversations were not easy for me to engage in. Empirical study and academic rationality come naturally to many of us as college students, but understanding one another’s faith and philosophy is perhaps just as important for our interactions in the real world. As Williams students, we are going to be the rare change-makers in society in just a few years. Coming to terms with what we do and do not believe in, as well as understanding the religious traditions and beliefs of others, will be vital if we wish to lead others towards a new age of peace and prosperity in this country and abroad.
Thus, I challenge each of you to “interfaith” in some way during your time at the College and realize one of the true benefits of living and learning in this diverse, liberal arts community that we call home. Have a discussion with one of our amazing chaplains, ask entrymates about their religions or worldviews, or even take a break from work to check out a religious service or club meeting that you have not attended before. Through our experiences and discussions in Tuscaloosa, our group came away understanding more about each other, the role of service and how personal faith has the potential to change the world. There is no reason why we can’t do the same at Williams; we just need to have a little faith in the process.
Ben Shuham ’14 is from Hollywood, Fla. He lives in Sewall.