Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Friday, June 14, 2013
What Being Jewish Means To Me: Then and Now
In June of 2008, I asked our graduating 7th grade students to respond to the question, "What does being Jewish mean to me?" This month, most of them are graduating from high school. This is a very accomplished group, having already made their mark on the world in innumerable ways. As we get ready to send them off into the world, it's a good time to look back at what they wrote then. Good for us - and good for them! We wish them all the best - and hope they will stay in touch while at school, and visit us often when they are home! Mazal tov to the graduates!
Being Jewish to me means becoming a Bat Mitzvah. It is a special
remembrance that I will have for the rest of my life. I studied six
months in advance with a tutor named Bracha. I shopped for my tallit,
dress, and shoes (which I love). During the experience I learned my
Torah portion, Haftarah, and trope. Then came the final day – March 1,
2008. It was spectacular. I am Jewish!
Being Jewish I feel I have a special task. This task is to follow the
commandments of the Torah and to be a Jew with dignity. Since there
are not that many Jews I feel that we, the Jewish people, are a minority.
To have dignity I need to answer questions that my peers have asked me
and to correct any false statements about Jews that they might have
heard, such as statements about Jews having big noses and loving money.
Following the commandments is very important to me, knowing that Jews
have been following the commandments for about 3000 years. I feel a
sense of obligation to not let my ancestors down. That is what being
Jewish means to me.
Jews have always overcome the hardest obstacles. Whether it was the
Holocaust or any other difficult time, we have always kept the traditions
alive. I am proud to be a Jew because I get to share in something my
ancestors did. Eating matzah ball soup and lighting the Shabbat candles
are two traditions that I get to keep alive. Why am I proud to be
Jewish? The real question should be “What isn’t great about being
Being Jewish means celebrating holidays with my family. I love eating
Jewish foods and celebrating with my friends at Hebrew School. I can
remember all of the things that Jews have survived. It makes me proud
to be a Jew when we tell the stories of our ancestors. I love going to
Hebrew School with my teachers and awesome friends.
For 12 years, I have just been going through the motions. I have been
just following along. Honestly, I didn’t know why I was Jewish. Maybe
because society said so, or because my parents said so. Why is it that
people always try to tell you who you are? Judaism is spiritual, and only
you can know who you truly are. Anyway, I didn’t know what my purpose
was, why I was born who I am. Then, in March, I went to Israel. Now I
know why people fight over it. It holds a spell over people. It is a world
of its own. I don’t think anyone truly knows what looms over this land.
You could call it religion, but I think that leaving it a mystery is what
makes it majestic. Anyway, Israel changed me. I found a new side of me
that has never been opened before. I’m still not sure that I know what
that part of me is. I still don’t know how to define Jewish, or how I am
Jewish. All I know is that the bond shared together by Jews all over the
world is powerful. I only wish that the rest of the world, and even I
myself, could fully understand this powerful bond.
To me being Jewish means having a rich and unique history. We have
survived many years of terror and pain at the hands of our tormentors.
The thing that saddens me the most are Jews who are not proud to be
Jewish. The ones who don’t send their children to Hebrew School and
don’t go to services. The children aren’t raised Jewish, so they won’t
teach their kids to be Jewish. The Jewish population is getting smaller
and smaller. It is said that Jewish people make up only a small part of
the world’s population. On the other hand, there are people proud to be
Jewish, like me. I always keep Passover and I am going to try to fast
during Yom Kippur.
The best thing about being Jewish is having a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. My Bat
Mitzvah was the best night of my life. I had so much fun. I love being
My favorite thing about being a Jew is all the great food. We have
latkes, matzah, hamentashen, etc. Another thing is seeing my friends at
Hebrew School. I usually don’t see them during the week. I was not born
Jewish, yet I was Jewish on the first day I was alive. If you are
confused, I was adopted. Even though I never knew my birth parents,
this is not something I am embarrassed about. I do know that my birth
parents did not hate me. They couldn’t care for me and wanted me to
have a better life. That makes me happy.
The best part about being Jewish, in my opinion, was becoming a Bat
Mitzvah. I loved standing up on the bimah and performing everything I
had learned that past year in front of everyone who mattered to me. I
truly felt like I had gained a special connection with God, and doing this truly convinced me (although I was convinced before) that there is a
being greater than all of us: God.
Judaism: tradition, history, joy, tears, and light. Being Jewish is more
than having a Bar/Bat Mitzvah party, or getting the best presents on
Chanukah. Being Jewish is remembering, practicing, and enjoying. Every
second with friends in Hebrew School folds into memories. Each note of
a prayer curls into a vine that holds us together. The feelings when
reading from the Torah are incredible. The Jewish life cycle is like a
flower: the buds of birth bloom into a flower, which falls to death, only
to grow again. There is no end.
I am extremely proud to be Jewish. Being Jewish, I am unique and I
stand out. I am proud to be able to enjoy the meaningful holidays of
Judaism. We get together with family, eat delicious food, and celebrate
Being Jewish to me means my love for Israel. Even though I have never
actually been to Israel I still care a lot about it. My best experience was
when an Israeli soldier named Benny stayed with my family for two
weeks. Benny immediately fit in with my family. He was outgoing, and
taught me a lot about Israel. Just in the short amount of time that
Benny spent here I learned about how close to home the war actually was
for him. Benny told me that the war was two and a half hours away from
his house. To me that is unthinkable. In the U.S.A. the war is far away
overseas, but for Benny it isn’t that far from home. After Benny’s stay I
really want to go to Israel, now more than ever. He touched my life in
such an unexplainable way that my life has been changed forever. To go
to Israel would be like going HOME!
Why am I proud to be Jewish? Because even though throughout the
centuries we have been hated by certain groups, cultures, and religions
(Spain, KKK, Nazis, some Muslims), we still managed to live. The reasons
for persecution were horrible (because we are different, because we are easy to blame, because we are cool). Also, I loved that I was able to
introduce my religion to my friends through my Bat Mitzvah, with all my
friends from school, camp, and Hebrew School there with me. That is
why I’m proud to be Jewish.
To be a Jew to me means to be part of generations of hard-working
individuals. Throughout history, Jews have lived through persecution,
hardships, and sorrow. Yet we always kept our cool and never stopped
working. Jews during the Holocaust lived with the thought that they
would someday see their family again. Jews have always been connected
to the family, and will do anything for them, which is why I’m proud to be
a hard-working Jew.
I am Jewish because I am going to have my Bat Mitzvah. I have been
preparing for months and I know that soon all the hard work will pay off.
Bat (and Bar) Mitzvahs are a huge commitment to Judaism, and I am
ready to make that commitment. I will be there for all my Jewish
friends when they make commitments at their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.
I am Jewish because I am proud of my religion. I like to teach people
about Jewish things. I tell people all about my Bat Mitzvah training.
Sometimes people ask me what their names would look like in Hebrew, so
I write it out for them. I also tell people about Jewish holidays and the
I have celebrated so many Jewish holidays with my family and friends,
realizing that Judaism is very important to me. Most of my friends aren’t
Jewish, so I teach them a lot about Judaism and when they ask me
questions, it feels good to be able to answer them.
Although Jewish holidays are a lot of fun and, I’m not going to lie, my
mom’s latkes are amazing, being Jewish means something deeper to me.
It’s having people that care and support me, outside of my small immediate family. It’s having a place to go in a time of need, but most of
all, the feeling of belonging to something larger than life.
Being a Jew is a really great thing. One great thing is having your Bar
Mitzvah. Also, it was really interesting when we studied the life cycle
and the Holocaust. It was really cool learning about the Holocaust
survivors’ stories. In addition, I enjoyed watching the movie “Six Million
Paper Clips”. I thought that the students in Tennessee had a great idea
and achieved a lot. I learned a lot this year in the seventh grade.
I am Jewish because I go to Hebrew School, and I had my Bat Mitzvah,
so I am a Bat Mitzvah (since I had my Bat Mitzvah). I go to Hebrew
School for the Jewish experience and I stay for the people and yummy
food (m&m’s and pretzels). In Hebrew School I am with kids who are
Jewish, unlike in school where there are only 14 or 18 Jews out of 250
kids in my grade. So…Jews rock!!
Being a Jew is important to me. My favorite memory related to Judaism
is when I had my Bar Mitzvah. I felt very proud when I was on the bima
leading the service. Also, I felt important when I was reading from the
Torah, the sacred text of our ancestors. Another reason that I am
grateful to be Jewish is because we have lasted for thousands of years.
We have endured many hardships, but still survived. Many cruel people
attempted to eliminate us, but the Jewish people have withstood this. All
of these reasons are what makes being Jewish very important to me.
Becoming a Bar Mitzvah is becoming a man. Becoming a man means
accepting responsibility. After I accept my responsibility I will be able
to wear my tallit with pride, honor, respect, and dignity. I enjoy being
Jewish because I am one of very few people who carry on the Jewish
traditions. Also, I did well on the Judaism exam in social studies. As a
Jew I am becoming a man. Plus, I get a party at the Hyatt when I’m done.
Jason RathmanI am proud to be a Jew because only two percent of the world is Jewish.
Because of that, I only have a few Jewish friends, besides my best ones
at Hebrew School. Since there are 20 Jewish kids in my grade out of
290, I enjoy telling my friends about Jewish holidays and teaching them
Hebrew words. The only thing that I love more than that is being at my
camp with my hundreds of Jewish friends.
Being Jewish to me is coming together as a family and celebrating the
Jewish holidays. From the falafel to the latkes the food is great. My
favorite holiday is Chanukah, and we come together as a family and have a
latke meal with lots of wonderful gifts.
Oliver Edward Owen Moorman Sabloff
I am Jewish because I converted. I was not originally Jewish. I was
Christian before, but then my mom divorced and remarried to my stepdad. My step-dad, Matthew, is Jewish, so my mom and I decided to
convert. First I had to get circumcised. Since I was around four years
old it was much worse than usual. I was put to sleep by anesthetics and
then they did the operation. After I recovered I got to go to the mikvah
with my mom. The mikvah is the bath that you have to go in to convert.
My mom and I jumped in. I didn’t want to come out because I liked it so
much. Then my mom had her Bat Mitzvah even though she was an adult.
I am now studying for my Bar Mitzvah and my mom has already been a big
help. So basically, being Jewish is about family.
Being Jewish means being able to celebrate many great holidays. My
favorite holiday is Passover. I like it because the food is great (excluding
matzah). Two foods that I like are matzah ball soup and chicken. I also
like Chanukah because I usually see my aunt.
I like being Jewish because I know things that people don’t understand.
For example, many people don’t understand why prayer books are
backwards. I say Hebrew is written from right to left, and therefore
the books should be backwards. They also do not get why Bar/Bat
Mitzvahs are such a big deal. I tell them that it is a coming of age ceremony, not just another birthday. The person is called up to the
Torah for the first time. Going to Hebrew School with all of my friends
for eight years has been fun. Yay Jews!!
I am Jewish because I had my Bat Mitzvah. When I became a Bat
Mitzvah I was making a commitment to myself, God, and the Jewish
religion. Now I am able to be there for all of my Jewish friends, when
they complete their Bar or Bat Mitzvahs and make a commitment, just as
I did on March 8, 2008, the day of my Bat Mitzvah and the day I became
a huge part of the Jewish religion, with many more Jewish years to come.
Being Jewish means that we fight hard. Jews have had to deal with so
much racism and discrimination. It’s pretty amazing that we have fought
hard and survived through it all. We should be proud to be Jewish and
should never give up, just as our ancestors never did. I would like to
congratulate all of the graduating seventh graders!
Being Jewish gives an opportunity of hope. We never give up no matter
what. For example, during the Holocaust, though we had a very tough
time, we never gave up and stopped it. That’s what makes me proud to be
a part of the Jewish faith. My friends who are not Jewish do not
understand, which is why this community gives you a chance of
I am proud to be a Jew because Jews have been through so much and still
have stuck together. Throughout the years, Jews have been hated and
discriminated against. Jews toughed it out, and here we are today. The
people who lost their lives for our future are amazing people, who were
proud to be Jewish. I am proud too, and because of those people, it is my
time to shine.
Judaism is about being one. All Jews are one big family. I am very proud
to be a part of this family. This is one of my favorite things about being a Jew. Every time I come to Hebrew School, I love the whole idea of
being with all of my friends. All Jews celebrate Shabbat, no matter
where we are and what synagogue we go to. It’s always good to have
another family to look after you and love you. This is only one reason why
I love being a Jew.
L’chaim. To life. To be more specific, life as a Jew. But for me, being
Jewish isn’t what a Jew’s life is usually like. I’m also part Christian
(Catholic). I celebrate and learn about both religions, and some say this
is the best of both worlds. My Jewish education has been great. Hebrew
School is great, all the new friends and some old ones too. L’chaim to my
friends and classmates.
To me, being Jewish means being able to share special experiences with
other Jewish friends and families. Also, being Jewish means celebrating
holidays, having the pleasure of going to Hebrew School, having a Bat
Mitzvah, and meeting new Jewish people. I am proud to be a Jew,
because I have met many new friends from engaging in Jewish activities,
and learned many things from my years at Hebrew School. Lastly, I
believe that we Jews are one big family that looks after and cares for
each another. This is why I am proud to be a Jew.
Being Jewish to me means having a homeland. Luckily, I got to visit this
wonderful place. I got to go to so many places, such as Eilat, Jerusalem,
Tel Aviv, Haifa, and many others. Spending time with my family was
great! We climbed Masada, swam in the Dead Sea, and tried delicious
new food! I enjoyed being in Israel sooooooooooooooooooooo much!
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