The Columns

Shaping Traditions: Alex Meilech ’18

— by on January 17th, 2017

“Just as I bring my traditions into Hillel, I will bring the traditions I learn at Hillel to my next chapter in life and beyond.”

Alex Meilech ’18 has experienced tradition – from Lexington, Virginia to Buenos Aires, Argentina

I walk across campus as the sun is setting, hurrying from physics lab prep to make it to Hillel in time to help set up for dinner. It’s 5:30 p.m. on a Friday, and I’m always tired after a long week of school – who isn’t? As I open the front door, I can hear people in the kitchen, students working together to prepare our weekly Friday night Shabbat meal. I relax, shrug off my backpack, and head in. After the table is laden with food (Make Your Own Pizza, Burrito Night, Breakfast for Dinner), we all gather round to light candles, drink wine, and eat challah.

My earliest memories are of running around under the table with my cousins during my family’s own weekly Shabbat dinners, and now I am one of the “adults” putting together these celebrations for fellow students and community members, my Hillel family. As we pray together in Hebrew, I am reminded, with a mix of appreciation and awe, that fellow Jews around the world are all doing the same thing.

When I went on Spring Term Abroad to Argentina, I had the privilege of visiting a synagogue in Buenos Aires, the oldest synagogue in the country, for a Friday night service. Just like at Hillel, we spoke Hebrew prayers that I’ve known since childhood. (And thanks to learning Spanish, I also understood the discussion there – mostly!)

What I’ve learned through Hillel is that college is not a bubble, as we sometimes make it out to be. These activities are the same worldwide, whether you are in college or not. Just as I bring my traditions into Hillel, I will bring the traditions I learn at Hillel to my next chapter in life and beyond. And this is a great lesson for me: the same holds true for everything I learn here at W&L.

One of my majors is chemistry-engineering, and as I start to prepare for my post-grad future, I know that I’m not planning on being a chemical engineer. So why am I learning about thermodynamics and physical chemistry? This is a question I often ask myself in the middle of an arduous night of practice problems… But I remember that while I may not be doing this specifically in the future, it makes me a better thinker, a lifelong learner, and a problem solver, shaping who I am.

As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” I like to think he was talking about Shabbat meals at Hillel.

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