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The Wellesley College Office of
Religious and Spiritual Life
monthly newsletter
May 2020

A Message from the Dean

When I began my journey into the Wellesley College community last summer, I could have never imagined what lay further down the path. Indeed, who could have? As I write this message after weeks of staying at home, social distancing, and carefully following safety protocols when in public spaces, I find myself strangely full of gratitude for the little things. In between Zoom meetings and emails, I’m more appreciative of things that I unintentionally took for granted before; like a walk on a sunny day, hearing the voice of dear family and friends, time spent in the garden, or with my toddler niece. I’m more appreciative of what I miss as well, like eating a meal at my favorite restaurant, being able to give someone a hug or a handshake, and gathering for worship with my community. Perhaps you’ve found yourself having similarly mixed feelings? 

We are living in strange and difficult times. I hold in prayer and am deeply aware of the many people around the world who are sick or cannot afford to shelter-in-place. Those whose livelihood- already precarious before this pandemic- now seems to further unravel. In these moments it is important to do what we can for others by sharing our resources while also caring for ourselves. Both actions help us to heal and hold on to hope as we look forward to being together once again. 

Our College Chaplain and Campus Rabbi, Dena Bodian, shared a thought that I have found myself returning to over the last few weeks.  She wrote, “In times like these, I find great comfort in an ancient midrash about an object which could make a happy person sad and a sad person happy.  The object was a gold ring inscribed with three words: gam zeh ya’avor: this, too, shall pass.” I invite you to sit with this thought for a moment. This is a powerful teaching, all things indeed pass, both joy and sorrow. So let us continue to take care of ourselves and others knowing that “this too shall pass.”

Our ORSL team has much to celebrate this year. Even in the midst of challenges, our office completed a partial restructuring in September that brought us up to speed with who the students on our campus are and with national data that reflects the spiritual needs of today’s college students. The College Chaplains continue to serve the Wellesley community with passion, creativity, and dedication as we wrap up the 2019-2020 academic year through online programming. With construction in Billings now complete, we have a much needed elevator, a beautiful Jewish Life lounge and a fresh coat of paint and carpeting throughout our floor, making our space more welcoming for our students and staff. This year has allowed us to begin important conversations about the future of our religious and spiritual life work on campus, including new programming to develop and offer. We are thankful for campus partners who participated in our 40 Days of Gratitude and Kindness programming series which allowed us to explore these themes as a college community through action and conversation.  

I’m deeply grateful for our wonderful students and a phenomenal staff at ORSL that has moved through this year with flexibility and creativity in order to serve the spiritual needs of Wellesley College. As we dream and long for this season to pass, may we do so committing to building something new together, a society that is kinder, more full of gratitude, built on justice and equity. Let’s not return to the way things were, let’s create something new together as we learn the lessons this season is offering us.

Muslim Community: Ramadan

The Muslim Community at Wellesley College was looking forward to sharing this special month of worship, fasting and feasting together. Instead, students were surprised to be home again and experiencing a Ramadan without parties or gatherings of any kind. To bring people together and share their feelings, Chaplain Amira Quraishi brought in alumnae Amal Cheema and Nisreen Abo-Sido, two Watson fellows, who each experienced Ramadan in remote locations in recent years. They shared advice on how to reframe the new challenges into potential benefits and how to get through a solitary Ramadan, feeling spiritually stronger and creative. The Muslim community continued to connect through Quran study, watch parties, educational lectures, and spontaneous tea parties.

Jewish Community

Ordinarily, this time of year marks a number of count-downs - until summer, until graduation. In the Jewish calendar, the period of time is known as the “sefirah” - literally, the counting, as we count the omer each night from Passover to Shavuot, from the exodus from Egypt to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.  This year, our counts have been of a far less uplifting sort: R-naughts, confirmed cases, and death tallies consume our thoughts.  At the same time, the counting of the omer teaches us that there is an end in sight; that,while numbers might be infinite, little else is.

There is more to this year than the pandemic.  This year, we began to reap the benefits of a beginning to build a strong Jewish campus community.  We opened a wonderful, welcoming new campus space in Billings 200, and enjoyed some delicious things baked in our new kosher kitchen (even sourdough! even before the pandemic!).  We engaged in learning, some of which has continued online. 

Most importantly, we began to see the ways in which we could continue to cultivate a dynamic Jewish community long-distance: by hosting Virtual Lounge nights, by sending seder kits to students, staff, faculty, and alumnae around the country, by mailing gifts, courtesy of the Wellesley Jewish Alumnae, to graduating seniors.  We’ll continue to gather virtually for some erev-Shavuot learning and a session during Reunion.  

As I write cards to place in the packages going out to seniors right now, I’ve encouraged them to remember that the capacity to build a Jewish home is something they carry with them, as are the sense of purpose and the resilience they developed while at Wellesley.  I hope those are things we all continue to carry with us over the course of the next year.

- Rabbi Dena Bodian

Christian Life Community

But, Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,

In proving foresight may be vain;

The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men

Gang aft agley,

An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,

For promis'd joy!

Robern Burns from the poem To a Mouse

The penultimate stanza in Robert Burn’s poem To A Mouse is the source of that often quoted aphorism “best laid plans of mice and men.”  The poem laments how our plans are sometimes laid to waste which in turn brings us grief and pain. That is certainly true when we think about the Spring Term of 2020.  There is so much to be sad about – the premature end of the term, hasty farewells or the lack of goodbyes altogether, and the cancellation of an in-person commencement. I am constantly aware of this disappointment with my two college aged children at home with us now, one of whom is a senior at Penn State.

One of my friends said to my son this week that this will be one of the most important times of his life – the time he learned what to do with disappointment.  Life, sadly, as Robert Burns pointed out in this poem back in 1785, is replete with disappointments and best laid plans.  But what life is also filled with is an abundance of joys despite those disappointments.

As I write this, we are in the Easter Season which does not end until Pentecost on May 31. The Easter Season is the time that Christians most particularly look for new life in the midst of death.  Jesus promised in the Gospel of John that he had come to bring life, life in abundance. So the challenge for Christians, or perhaps all of us, is to find that new abundant life in the midst of disappointment.  Perhaps for some of you this time has been a strengthened relationship with a family member or friend.  Perhaps it has been the opportunity to discern your deepest and most cherished values. Maybe it has given you a renewed sense of purpose. Maybe you have developed a new skill that will serve you well in the future.  Or maybe you have come to realize that you have a resilience you never knew you had before, or a resourcefulness you have never had to use until this moment.  Maybe you realized that one of your best attributes is grit, or love, compassion or curiosity.

To our seniors, I send you my very best wishes for your next step in your journey.  Please know that you are all very much in my prayers and it has been an honor to get to know you.  Remember that we love to hear from you – so don’t forget us and come and visit us or call us.  You are always a part of Wellesley. You are always a part of ORSL.  

- Chaplain Sarah Robbins Cole

Wellness Challenge: Community

This last January I bought Dr. Jennifer Ashton’s book The Self Care Solution: A Year of Becoming Happier, Healthier, and Fitter – One Month at a Time.  I bought it because wellness used to be a side hustle for me when I lived in New Hampshire and it is a subject I am interested in. Alongside being a parish priest I worked at a health club for 9 years.  I taught yoga, pilates, aquatics, and group exercise and I trained to be a wellness coach.  Dr. Ashton’s book covers almost all the basics – hydration, nutrition, cardiovascular health, strength training, meditation, diet and even laughter.  She does, however, in my opinion, leave out one important component of wellness – community.

In a fascinating book called The Last American Hermit, journalist Michael Finkel writes about a hermit, Christopher Knight, who hid in the woods of Maine for 27 years.  Finkel chronicles the story of Knight’s life, but also explores how unusual this desire to be socially isolated is contrary to most people’s deep longing to be connected and to belong.  Even religious hermits live in some sort of community.  Or think of Thoreau who went off to the woods to live alone but actually was very much a part of the town of Concord during this supposed isolation.  The book is fascinating – I strongly recommend it.

As I write this week in week 6 of our new life as socially distanced, or better stated, physically distanced life.  Covid 19 has, ironically, for many of us made us more connected than ever.  We worry about those whom we know live alone and we make a point to call them.  We are writing letters. We are FaceTiming over dinner with family.  We are teaching our grandparents how to use Zoom.  Record numbers of people are engaging in religious observances and worship services digitally.

What science tells us is that loneliness is deadly.  Google it.  You will find that loneliness rivals smoking in determining premature death.  We are meant for community.

One of the things that I love about my work at Wellesley College, and particularly in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, is that the heart of our work is creating community – radically inclusive community.  Every program and every event has a community focus whether it is Mass on Sunday or walking into the Jewish Life kitchen and lounge and being greeted by a friendly student who offers you the latest baked goods out of the oven.  Every program we put on is open to all students regardless of their faith or absence of a professed faith.  This is even true while we are delivering our programming over Zoom for the remainder of this term.

So if you are up for a community building wellness challenge – maybe take on one of these challenges:

  1. Reach out to someone everyday for a chat on the phone (texting is not a substitute)
  2. Hold one Netflix party once a week
  3. Make a commitment to join one Zoom community whether it is through your local recreation department, your local library, or place of worship.
  4. Host a zoom game night

Be well.

Sarah Robbins-Cole


Life After Wellesley From Cseca,
Protestant Community President

Amidst all the chaos, I am beyond excited and grateful to be a Watson Fellow for 2020. I will spend a year traveling the world--to New Zealand, India, Israel/Palestine, and Northern Ireland specifically--to ponder the questions I have always cared about: what does it mean to do good? Are there underlying ethics that unite all world religions? And how can these ethical bridges create empathy where there is violence? I want to understand how people live out their religious values day-to-day and seek peace through ethical common ground. To explore these questions, I will work with interfaith organizations that foster cross-cultural dialogue as well as religious leaders and believers in areas of conflict. I am so humbled by the love and support of the Wellesley community, and I will carry it with me to every hostel and house of worship

Multifaith Cooking

When on campus, students in the Multifaith Council discuss issues related to faith and religion. When in quarantine in our homes, they discuss the role of religion and spirituality in resilience and making meaning of a global pandemic. These past few weeks have given us the opportunity to lift each other up by sharing personal items in their homes that give them comfort and inspiration. Sadly our potluck party on campus had to be canceled, but the MFC took advantage of the quarantine to visit each others’ homes, sharing recipes of dishes that are meaningful in their religions and cultural traditions. Shira Cohen not only taught us how to make pineapple kugel, but she also shared a powerpoint teaching us the history of this dish and how it works as a flex food between meals with dairy or meat in order to adapt to the rules of Kashrut. Emily Lu’s father and brother got in on the fun, when the all showed us how to make her family-favorite comfort food: scallion pancakes. Chaplain Amira Quraishi taught students how to make date-filled ma`mool cookies, which are a favorite for Eid Al-Fitr, Easter and Passover in multifaith cultures of the Middle East. Cooking alongside each other virtually was almost as good as doing it in person! 

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