Friday, November 7, 2008

TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Danielle Tuluca on Parashat Lech Lecha

My portion begins with command to Abraham to leave on his great journey – and when I read it, it reminded me of a journey I took just a few months ago.

Last year, my friend and I were looking on line for a camp experience that would take us to Europe and help us experience a language that we have been learning for many years in school : Spanish.

So in early July, we flew off to Marbella, Spain, on the Costa del Sol, where we were picked up by a family friend and taken to an International Language camp. We were happy to meet kids from all over the world, including 5 Americans, 5 from France, a few dozen from Spain, a few from Italy and England… and 30 from the last place in the world I would have expected the kids to come from: Russia.

Most of you know that my mom came from Russia and never wanted to go back because of all the anti-Semitism the family had faced there. But here, suddenly, I was confronted with a large group of non-Jewish Russians for the first time in my life. The other irony is that I was in Spain, a country also known for being cruel to the Jews.

So this is how I chose to spend my summer vacation... re-living my family's nightmare!

People might not have found out that I was Jewish, except that I was practicing for today. One day my Bat Mitzvah folder slipped out of my suitcase while I was taking it out and a Russian girl picked it up and started looking at it. Within an hour, all the Russian girls knew that I was learning Hebrew.

As you can imagine, I was afraid of what was going to happen next.

The girls started treating us differently and saying cruel things about Jews. Some of them had never met a Jew before - and I had grown up thinking that most Russians are Jewish because those are the ones I had always met. So, this really hit me hard.

I talked to my parents every day, we decided not to make a fuss, and it soon died down when they found out that the friend I went with was also Jewish. She’s pretty tough and they didn’t want to mess with her!

I learned a lot from this trip. Yes, I learned a lot of Spanish; but even more, I learned what it means to be Jewish. I also learned a lot about where I come from – not just about Russians, but about my own family and what they went through. After all these years, I finally understood why my mom left and why it’s hard to go back. And most of all I realized that no matter what happens I should always be proud that I am Jewish.

Abraham took a similar journey in Lech Lecha. Commentators have asked why God didn’t just say "lech," which means "go." Why add the second word, "Lecha?" One commentator noted that "lecha" means "to yourself." So "Lech lecha means "go to yourself." Abraham may have gone very far from home, but the most difficult part of the trip was what went on inside himself. He went far from home in order to find out who he really was.

That’s exactly what happened to me!

Of course, being Jewish means more than just standing up to people who don’t always treat us well. It also means standing up to help others who are in need. That is why for my mitzvah project, I raised money for Cancer Care, a non profit organization that provides financial and emotional support to families of cancer patients , especially children whose close relatives had been diagnosed with this illness. A few weeks ago, I participated in a cancer walk in Fairfield that raised $5,000.

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