This question was submitted by Rabbi Shlomo Schachter and Ahava Zarembski- Schachter, OU-JLIC Educators at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
When looking at Jewish life on a campus, bigger is better right?
The conventional wisdom is that a school with more Jews is obviously better for Jewish life. This is especially true within the Orthodox community. The laws of supply and demand clearly dictate that more frum Jews means more demand for, and therefore more availability of Kosher food, minyanim etc. Often this is the case, but it’s not always so simple.
With many aspects of Jewish life, the availability of more options gives diminishing returns. I mean, do you really need more than a single Eruv? The second or third Kosher option in a cafeteria is not nearly as important as the first. Similarly, the presence of a second daily or Shabbat minyan can be nice if you have very particular taste in davening. However, the resultant fragmentation of the community can also have alienating results. When you don’t show up for minyan, people assume you davened in the other minyan. As a result, there is less accountability and more anonymity. Now that’s fine if you are individually motivated and socially outgoing. However, those of us who struggle in either of those areas may find a larger campus community hard to feel ‘part of’.
On smaller campuses with only one minyan or one Kosher cafeteria, the Orthodox community generally tends to be more tight-knit, and so while you may find yourself stuck with people you might not have otherwise chosen to befriend, nevertheless, your presence or absence will be noticed, and individuals are less likely to fall through the cracks. So “Bigger is Better” is not always true for everyone. When looking for the right campus for YOU, keep in mind your social and spiritual needs, and evaluate what size campus will best meet your set of social skills. We recommend spending a Shabbat on campus before making your final decision to get a feel for the community and its particular social fabric before deciding based solely on the number of your peers that are going there.