Sense of Community, Desire for Justice and Care for Others

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Sense of Community, Desire for Justice and Care for Others
Annie Poole, 18, is a senior at Mercer Island High School in Mercer Island, WA. Her mother, Sheri Davis, is a licensed clinical social worker who works with students at the University of Washington.

Listen to an excerpt of Annie and Sheri’s conversation:

What is something you wish you could have told me, but never had the chance? Is there a question I never asked you that you wish I had?

Sheri: I’ve been reflecting as this big transition in our lives is about to happen—you graduating high school and going off to college in the fall. I’ve been thinking that I wish I told you a little more about how I felt during my summer in Israel in my 20s.

It was the strangest thing. I felt at home in this land that was so familiar, yet I had never been there before. I felt fearless. I felt fearless even with Israeli soldiers with guns nearby and when I went off with different people and explored. I met family who I never met before. I felt hopeful even though there was a lot of uncertainty going on in Israel then, as always.

Annie: When I was younger—this happened only a few years ago and maybe it still happens occasionally—I would cry under my covers and tell you to go away and not bother me. However, in those moments, I actually wanted you to comfort me and tell me everything would be O.K. And in the moment, I never really wanted to tell you that what I needed was for you to come hug me and sing the Shema to me.

Eventually, you would come and comfort me and that’s when I would actually start to feel better. You telling me that it’s better to let it all out and not hold things inside.

Especially at this moment in time, where life feels completely questionable and uncertain, I’m grateful for our extra time to have conversations.

What are ways in which we are similar and ways in which we are different?

Sheri: Since you were a little girl, people always called you my “mini-me.” We are both good listeners and compassionate. We can be a bit quiet in new situations even though we can be very social and chatty when we feel comfortable. We both have an adventurous streak. Even though I’m cautious, I feel like I have gone on adventures or made choices that people are surprised by. Whether it was our road trip with just you, your sister and me when we moved from Austin to Seattle, or taking you both to the Flaming Lips concert for my birthday, I like to do the unexpected sometimes.

One difference is that you’ve really found your voice much earlier than I did. You speak up for injustice when you see people not being treated fairly, you have much more courage than I did at your age. I am constantly inspired by the issues you discuss as editor of your school newspaper. I love how you don’t shy away from questioning things that most teenagers don’t in high school: privilege, entitlement, equity and diversity. You are also definitely more fashionable than I am. That’s an area where I learn from you.

Annie: Everyone always tells me, “You look so much like your mom.” I think it’s our eyes—tiger eyes, as people call them—and the olive skin that easily tans in the summer. Our five-foot two-inch stature and seven-and-half shoe size. Besides that, it’s our ability to empathize with others and feel things deeply, even if we don’t always show it. We both are independent and powerful, but also desire love and acceptance. I think we have a strong sense of identity that helps us speak out for others and makes us resilient in the face of challenges. And to connect to my answer from the first question, I think we both bottle up our emotions.

The ways in which we are different: You’re a little more cautious than I am. Maybe that comes with age, but right now I tend to push the boundaries more and question. This can be as simple as what I wear—plaid flared pants and sparkly Puma sneakers—all the way to the questions I ask people that others often don’t: Why there’s never been a woman president? If they’ve ever been in love? Have they regretted anything?

Right now, I think you long for stability while I long for change. But you’re also more forgiving than I am and don’t hold grudges.

Have you ever felt empowered by Judaism? Have you felt that you weren’t heard because of Judaism?

Sheri: When I was 9, I ended up living in a religious Jewish community in Seattle when my mom remarried. I was immersed in a Hebrew class in an Orthodox day school. I learned the language and the prayers quickly—I just absorbed it, it was natural to me. I really felt a sense of pride and accomplishment, even though sometimes I felt that I wasn’t heard or didn’t really fit in as a Jewish girl who had been growing up with a single mom without a lot of money.

I always really felt empowered by my knowledge and foundation in Judaism. The cool thing is that I can walk into any Jewish community or synagogue and connect with others.

Annie: I think I’ve always felt a little less connected with the Jewish community than you were growing up. I didn’t have an in-depth education or experience like you. I loved our Friday night Shabbat dinners but I hated going to Hebrew school. I didn’t have any friends that I connected with there or people that made me excited to go. After we moved synagogues a few times, I finally found people to connect with and ended up regularly going to Hebrew school.

After my bat mitzvah, my trips to temple slowed. Now, I keep making friends who are Jewish coincidentally. I’ve felt empowered through these people and hearing about their experiences with Judaism and how they talk about Judaism.

I think I’ve felt the most empowered by Judaism through my involvement with jGirls. I joke that it’s really the only “Jewish” thing I do now, but it has been the most important thing for my Jewish identity. The girls I’ve met have empowered me to explore what role I want Judaism to play in my life. I know that I want to keep the sense of community, desire for justice and care for others that jGirls has taught me. And all of these qualities are innately Jewish.

This article was originally published as part of a series in Hadassah Magazine, May/June 2020. You can read about the collaboration and all six conversations here.
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Annie Poole
Annie Poole is a freshman at Barnard College in New York City. She is interested in studying art history, anthropology, and gender studies. Annie served two years on the jGirls Editorial Board as Nonfiction Department Head and as a member of the art department. She was also the Print Editor-in-Chief of her high school newspaper, The MIHS Islander, and co-President of MIHS’s Gender Equality Club.