From the moment I was born, I was under a microscope. Since my father is a rabbi, some congregants have always made my life their business. They believed they knew me, even if we rarely spoke. Their unsolicited opinions pelted at me from every direction, burning holes in my skin. Because being at the synagogue was an important part of my upbringing, my only source of relief was to morph into the girl they believed I should be. I was an imperfect person forced into the mold of a perfect angel.
One afternoon before Hebrew School, my friends and I organized an innocent game of tag. Our little feet echoed through the halls, harmonizing with our shrieks of delight. My grin nearly touched my ears as I reached out to tag my friend. My smile vanished as I encountered my teacher, her face redder than I thought humanly possible, “You know better than to misbehave like this. As the rabbi’s daughter, you have to be a better influence.” I turned around to see everyone giggling, their status as a non-rabbi’s kid a shield from her wrath. In its place, I was adorned with a neon sign flashing: “Judge me!” In an effort to reduce the incessant criticism, I attempted to be quiet and reserved, two things that I am not. I declined requests to play with my friends and tried to stay out of the limelight. I felt like a contortionist, bending to please others.
I then became embarrassed by my parents’ actions, as they accidentally ruffled feathers I tried to keep still. My dad was the chaplain for the Connecticut House of Representatives, and our representative gave me a special certificate of recognition during my bat mitzvah. In hindsight, this honor was incredibly meaningful, but during the presentation, all I saw was a congregant rolling her eyes and whispering judgments to her neighbor. I loathed being judged on that extremely important day. I was trapped, and the chains continued to tighten. Then, by some stroke of luck, I was granted release.
The summer before high school, we packed our bags and headed to Chicago. I was both exhilarated and terrified. What if this community was even more opinionated and judgemental? I tiptoed into the new synagogue, scared of what they might think. Suddenly, epiphany struck: there was no reason to remain hidden behind a shy and quiet façade.
Unapologetically, I greeted people with my head held high and was not weighed down by their potential judgments. Portraying myself confidently felt liberating and brought me immeasurable comfort. Today, I am a strong, independent, passionate leader. I take charge and implement change. I want to amplify values that I believe are important and empower others to do the same. After the tragedy in Parkland, I convinced my school’s administration that we needed to participate in the national gun control walkout. This is an important cause to me and, more importantly, the world. Unlike my younger self, I was able to ignore the judgemental naysayers. The protest, during which I publicly addressed the community, was incredibly meaningful to everyone in attendance. The strength I felt in that moment was a beacon of light, encouraging me to pursue my passions further. I hope to continue engaging as an active citizen and enacting change, both as a student and in the future.
Our relocation sparked the realization that other people’s judgments should not hinder my ability to be my true self. My experiences in our Connecticut congregation were difficult to endure, but imperative in initiating this discovery. I will always be a rabbi’s kid and will likely always be under a microscope, but I now know how to surpass its limits and actualize my full potential.
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