When Texas Froze, My Hillel Warmed My Heart


In February, record cold temperatures sapped the power grid in Texas,  leaving 4 million households without light and heat and, in some cases, without drinkable water.

The week of the ice storms, beginning Feb. 14, I found myself basically stranded at Texas A&M University in eastern Texas. I was alone, taking care of my sister’s puppy while she was out of town. It was completely unexpected and I was so unprepared. 

At the same time, the experience reminded me of how much I have to be grateful for, especially as a Jewish college student.

Coming into college as a freshman in the fall of 2020, during the pandemic, wasn’t easy. I was in a new place, surrounded by new people, and learning in a different environment. 

One of the only constants I had was my sister, Rachel. As a senior at Texas A&M, she knew the ins and outs of campus and was the president at Hillel. Because of Rachel, I was comfortable at A&M and knew Hillel was something I wanted to be a part of. However, I wanted to ensure that my time at A&M was my experience, rather than me living in the shadow of my older sister. 

I quickly became involved at Hillel and joined the Student Board as one of the freshmen representatives. However, I was still unsure of my place in the organization and campus as a whole. I joined a few other organizations, and got more comfortable at Texas A&M. As the year progressed, I saw that Hillel was where I felt the most at home through my friendships and experiences.

While I made very close friends my first semester and regularly went to Jewish events, it wasn’t until this semester that I can confidently say I found a group of friends that would last a lifetime. The second week back from winter break, everyone was enjoying dinner outside of Hillel after Shabbat services. I was sitting with a few of my friends, and as people began dwindling, a group of us freshmen were left. We got to talking, and later ended up going ice skating that night. This night of adventures basically solidified us as a group. 

From a Super Bowl party to Valentine’s Day gift exchange to random game nights, the nine of us have formed that typical college group that I feel so many high school students dream about. With them, I feel safe, comfortable, and completely myself. They have truly become my second family and I could not be more thankful for our Jewish identity that brought us together. 

During the power outage crisis, I would learn just how much those friendships meant to me. Ultimately, it was my Hillel community that helped me get through such a scary time.

Classes had been cancelled due to the rolling power outages, and this left me with little to do. When the power went out I couldn’t watch TV and tried not to use my phone because I didn’t know when I’d be able to charge it again. Thankfully, I never lost power for more than two hours at a time, but some of my friends in other neighborhoods lost power for over 36 hours before it came back on. 

I also tried to conserve water. Luckily we also never lost water and none of my pipes burst, but many buildings in my complex suffered leaks and water damage from pipes bursting. This time was hard, especially being alone, but also because I didn’t fully understand what was happening. After all, I had never experienced a weather crisis like this before. 

I often had to be reassured by my parents that I was doing everything that I should be doing, in regards to leaking faucets, keeping my phone charged, and minimizing my electricity usage. I was certainly luckier than those truly suffering in the cold and dark; at least 57 people died across the state as a result of the emergency. Still, I wanted more than anything during this time to be on campus with my friends.

I could not be more thankful for our Jewish identity that brought us together. 

Thankfully, by the end of the week, the roads cleared. Shabbat at Hillel was cancelled, but my friends and I decided to celebrate Shabbat ourselves. We bought dinner from a restaurant and brought it to my apartment, lit Shabbat candles, said the blessings, and played board games the rest of the evening. It was a comforting end to an eerie and disconcerting week.

My experience with the Hillel community has been one that I wasn’t necessarily expecting, but one that I am endlessly grateful for. I now have a group that feels like my second family in a place that feels like my second home. I was worried that coming into college during a pandemic would not make this possible, but to my surprise I have already found my place. 

Emily Chilton is a freshman at Texas A&M University majoring in psychology. 

Debates over Israel, mental health challenges, anti-Semitism, creating a strong Jewish life — young Jews experience a lot in college. The View From Campus is a column for them to tell The Jewish Week, and you, all about it. Want to write for us? Send a draft or pitch to Lev Gringauz at lev.jewishweek@gmail.com.