This question was submitted by Rabbi Elie and Miriam Schwartz, incoming educators at the University of Pennsylvania (previously educators at the University of Maryland).
I’m very nervous because I am going to a college where I don’t know anyone and I would really like to have an observant Jewish roommate. How do I find a roommate that is Jewish and observant?
Colleges do not provide the option to select a roommate based on religion, but the good news is that Jewish geography and your future OU-JLIC educators are going to be valuable resources in helping you solve this issue! You probably know someone (and if you don’t, you definitely know SOMEONE who knows someone) at the university you are planning to attend. Since the roommate selection process is specific to each university, we would recommend talking to current students to get their advice on how to approach the process. Additionally, many of the Orthodox communities on campus have Facebook groups or an email listserv where students can crowdsource topics ranging from rides home from campus, what classes to take, and (the most relevant to you right now) people looking for roommates. Once you get in touch with a current student on campus, ask to be added to one of these groups or ask them to post on your behalf.
If you are unable to find your own roommate or you are on a campus where roommates or suite mates are randomly assigned, ask the students with whom you’ve connected how they have navigated the situation. If you do end up with roommates or suitemates who are not part of the Jewish community, this is an amazing opportunity to learn about someone’s background that is different from your own while maintaining your own commitment to Jewish law and the Jewish community. Since many of the issues are specific to the dorms on your campus, reach out to your future OU-JLIC educators to discuss potential challenges that might arise, such as issues related to Shabbat, Yom Tovand kashrut. The OU-JLIC educators have an understanding of the dorming situation from answering countless questions, and they will be able to guide you. Your next step should be to get in touch with your roommates/suitemates before the school year begins to start your relationship on a positive and respectful note. You’ll be kind and accommodating if they’re vegan or allergic to peanuts, and it’s reasonable to hope for the same respect for your religious needs. If you experience challenges as the semester goes on, it may become necessary to consult your RA for help. They are there to make sure that everyone is comfortable in their living spaces, and will be able to help you work out a solution.