2/02/2007

Paradigms for Religious Success on Campus Part III: The Lonely Man of Faith

Continued from part I, IA, II

[I will preface this post with the same caveat that I included in the introduction to this series: The goal here is to identify paradigms. Different people use different aspects of different paradigms to fashion their own identities on campus. Nobody falls completely into a single category. Furthermore, I am not passing judgment on anybody’s manner of coping with the challenges of secular campus life. Anyone that achieves religious growth on campus has invested in the endeavor, and should be commended. Although I do have my own opinions about various manifestations of the various paradigms, I acknowledge the value of each and realize that different approaches work for different people. This series is not the place for value judgments on the different approaches. There’s also a bit more nuance within each paradigm; there are manifestations of each which I like to a greater or lesser degree.]

Of all the different paradigms, the Lonely Man of Faith (henceforth Lmof) is most withdrawn from the campus culture. As opposed to the countercultural Jews, Lmofs are more likely to keep quiet and just do their own thing. Their desire is to remain as aloof as possible from the various goings-on, even if there is a positive element in it. For example, even if there is a nice Shabbat environment on campus, he or she would rather go away for Shabbat to spend it in a better or even simply different environment. Rather than have a chavruta with a fellow student on campus, they prefer the environment of a Yeshiva or more established Beit Midrash, even if it means a significant commute. They would prefer living off-campus if feasible.

Socially, they would tend to be cordial with all but close friends with very few. They tend to eschew public positions, within the Jewish community or within the campus community. They tend to not be involved in Jewish groups on campus – even kiruv groups. They will participate in minyanim and eat in the kosher dining facility, and perhaps even pass time in Hillel or whatever happens to be the most Jewish environment on campus, just doing homework, reading, or learning.

Lomfs tend to earn the respect of their peers for the silent strength that they display. They hold themselves apart from the crowd, and the crowd accepts and respects that, in general. The case of the “Yale Five” was definitely a manifestation of Lomf-hood. The students did not want to (literally) turn their preferences into a federal case, but were willing to stand on principle so as not to live in an environment which compromised their beliefs.

It is nearly impossible to build a community out of Lomfs; they tend to avoid the exposure that becoming central to a community means. They also may not feel as invested or obligated in strengthening the campus community. It’s tough to do when you always have a foot out the door. However, in places where there is no community, Lomfs may be just as successful as if there were a strong one.

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