Anyways, we each had to write an essay about our Jewish identity. Something along those lines. So, I thought I'd post my essay here.
In my world history class, we’re studying the Holocaust. The only difference between me and my classmates (none of whom are Jewish) is that I’ve learned about it already. Throughout my life, I’ve been indifferent to my religion. Yes, I’m Jewish, but it didn’t mean much besides celebrating different holidays than most people around me. I fasted on Yom Kippur, and kept kosher for Passover. But, I did that as a test to my self-discipline, not because it meant anything symbolically, religiously.
My bat mitzvah was more proof of how secular I had grown up. I went to Hebrew school at the JCC, because my family did not belong to a synagogue. The education there was historical, not religious. We learned about the stories in the Torah, and the history of the Jews, in events such as the Holocaust. We attempted to learn a bit of Hebrew one year, and I was one of about three of us who managed to solidly learn the aleph-bet. Beyond that, nothing. When it came to for my bat mitzvah, the synagogue we had joined a year ago refused to schedule me for a bat mitzvah, because I had not attended their Hebrew school. The politics of Judaism and synagogues made my bat mitzvah thoroughly unenjoyable.
Before it appears that I dislike Judaism, there are many aspects of being Jewish that I believe are lovely. The ritual of placing stones on graves is calming. Flowers can be garish, and they wilt. Stones last for millions of years and you can hold them in the palm of your hand. Jews will also readily accept anyone in to a group and make them feel welcome, perhaps due to the group prayer. In synagogue, people are not islands of prayer, but rather one whole ark. Voices join together in reciting prayers, and we are a community. One more voice is welcomed.
Being Jewish can affect my decisions as well. Next year, I will be starting to learn a third language. Hebrew is in my top two choices, because I am Jewish. If I were not, I would not have a desire to learn Hebrew. It isn’t widely spoken, and the main Hebrew-speaking country is halfway around the world and always in a war. However, I have a strong desire to learn Hebrew. I want to know what I’m saying on the rare Saturday morning I attend synagogue. I want to put a name to Jewish values. I want to understand what I’m singing when I listen to songs in Hebrew.
But my newfound interest in Judaism (for that’s what it is) is partially fueled by history class, and learning about the Holocaust. Isn’t there more? When Jewish history is mentioned, it is always either the Torah, or the Holocaust. I want to know what happened in between those times, and then after the Holocaust. That’s never taught. 9th grade history curriculum in Philadelphia is African-American history. We learned about African-Americans from ancient times up until the present, all-encompassing. I want to learn about Jewish history like that, not just as like we currently do. “Well, Jews existed before the Holocaust, and then Hitler tried to wipe them all out, and then there were fewer Jews, but they still existed. The end.” It’s not the end, and it starts in the middle.
There’s still so much to learn. I attended Prozdor to start to learn, and I have. Prozdor, for me, was Introduction to Jewish Values. I’ve puzzled over whose blood is redder, and I’ve learned that the most valuable gift is one that is blind on both ends. But, it’s just a beginning, and I hope to keep studying and learning about Judaism after being confirmed.