The UAlbany community has been anxiously eyeing the “UAlbany Covid Dashboard” watching its creep upward in concern over the NY State mandated “Pause” and pivot to all-remote once it hits 100 on-campus related Covid cases within a 2-week period. It just happens the hopefully awaited first such Covid-count “reset” at UAlbany takes place on the Saturday of “Shabbos Shuvah”!

Think about how appropriate this is! Shabbos Shuvah is the Shabbat between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and its theme is repentance/return. How fitting is that this Shabbat is UAlbany reset! 

I wrote this idea up as a tweet late on Thursday night just before going to bed and thought it was a cool connection and good message. But when I awoke on Friday morning I had second thoughts. Is Teshuva really a hard reset? Is the goal to go back to Zero? Does a fresh start erase everything that preceded it?

It made me think of two Shabbos House alumni, both who made great strides in their Judaism, but differing greatly in their Teshuvah styles. Let’s call them A. and B. I thought to juxtapose these two, because they are (or were) both avid skillful drummers – hence “A Tale of Two Drummers”.

Let’s start with B. first:

After B. left UAlbany (where he was incredibly active and dynamically vibrant in Jewish life as well as in other areas of campus life) he went off to study in a yeshiva where he found a totally different path in life. He totally immersed himself in it, and at the same time totally disconnected from his UAlbany past and his friends and circles from here. In the language of reset – he did something like a factory reset. All the apps and programs are gone, all the entangled files and preferences are wiped clean, it’s all totally new. Like a refurbished phone. Same device, same person, but no indication anything was on there before. He did build a beautiful new life for himself, he has a wonderful wife, great kids, good community. And he’s become a real Torah scholar. He’s a natural in his religious surroundings, if you didn’t know, you wouldn’t guess he once went to UAlbany and lived a college student kind of life. 

Then there’s A.:

A, too, was super involved at UAlbany (both Jewishly and otherwise) and had circles of close friends and groups he warmly and intensely engaged in. Music was always a big thing for him, beyond his own passionate drumming, and amazingly found his way into a career in the music world. Big name music is a very hard nut to crack, most can’t find their way in, but he did. Now and then when a famous musician passed away or is in the news for some reason he posts a backstage photo with him or some deep life quality that he learned from his music. And all along his career journey he continued to grow gradually in his Jewish learning and connections, deepening them, getting deeper roots. After he married and wanted to settle down as a family they made the big decision to be Shomer Shabbat. That’s a big decision for anyone but especially someone active in the music concert world where most events are on weekends. It was a significant move. And when they moved out of state, the big priority was to find a Jewish community they’d feel comfortable with. And with all this change and metamorphoses, A. remains closely connected with his college friends, connected to Shabbos House, and he finds meaningful ways to integrate and synthesize his music passion with his Jewish observance and spirituality. 

Obviously, these are two examples out of many alumni. While they may be extreme examples, they are representative of these two paths of Teshuvah: the hard-reset vs. gradual growth, the path that rejects the past vs. the path that incorporates our pasts, the style of ending one chapter to begin another, or of a series that continues the story from one book to the next….

We were sitting out in the tent (our outdoor meal space for Covid) and asked people for their input. Interestingly, responses were varied. Some felt that the hard-reset was the way to go, more thought the gradual growth incorporating one’s past into one’s life journey was healthier. And some said that it actually depends. There are different types of Teshuvah, and some situations or aspects might call for a hard-reset and others are best when gradual and in a transferable growth kind of way.