Why I Am Jewish

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Why I Am Jewish By Sophie Krajmalnik - photo by Molly Voit

I am Jewish because I love the sense of connection and feeling of being greater than myself. I have spent seven summers at Camp Young Judaea Texas and spend Saturday evenings at BBYO events (a Jewish youth movement). Being brought together under a shared history and a common trait, especially one so important, creates a sense of deep connection and belonging. These Jewish institutions have allowed me to make so many friends, and most importantly, Jewish friends. We can have fun together but we also feel the same burdens and fears. I feel safer knowing I am not alone, and I feel like part of a global family. I love seeing a total stranger in public wearing something even as subtle as a necklace with a hamsa, Magen David, or chai. We then make eye contact and smile, silently saying, “I’ve got your back.”

I am Jewish because it is how I was raised. Legacy is an important Jewish value, and I feel responsible for carrying on the legacy of my biblical forefathers and mothers and my own family; I tell the story of Passover and remember the Holocaust. I have a Jewish name given to me when I was just over a week old. It is a family name which I carry with the same pride with which I wear my star. I also greatly believe in the theory/observation by Ahad Ha’am, “More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” For as long as I can remember, my family has sat down for a pleasant Shabbat ritual and dinner every Friday night, no matter how hectic the week has been. We carve out time to be together, relax, reflect, and be grateful, and I look forward to this every week. Like Shabbat, so much of the time I spend with my family is based around Judaism. For example, we haven’t had a family reunion as huge as my bat mitzvah was in years, because Judaism brought us together.

I am the ritual objects I have gotten at different points throughout my life to celebrate big moments from my family; I am my Shabbat candlesticks, siddur, havdalah set, tallit. I am my Torah portion and haftarah from my bat mitzvah. The example set by my family and their emphasis on Judaism, and the memories I have centered around Judaism, helped create the basis of my love for my religion and culture, and is part of what keeps my faith, even when I question my beliefs or it’s easier not to be Jewish. I believe in legacy, tradition, and ritual.

I am Jewish because I believe in the values embedded in Judaism. Though I am not sold on whether I believe the stories in the Tanakh are literal or allegorical, I know the message is important either way. So much in Judaism has meaning and is considerate of others and the world. Judaism is a moral code. I know my true purpose is the crucial Jewish value of tikkun olam, repairing the world. This value is also revealed in other laws and statements. Moses, in Exodus 9:29, says, “The Earth belongs to the Lord.” We, as humans, have such a limited time and rent on this Earth, and we must maintain it for God and for future generations of humans. Even though the Earth is God’s, like it says in Deuteronomy 30:12, “Lo bashamayim hi” (it is not in the Heavens), and we have a responsibility to take action and not leave everything up to divine plan.

I am Jewish because it gives me a sense of identity. One of the BBYO cheers says it best—“Identity, identity, who am I? A BBG. I am one, though only one, there’s so much I can do.” I am the token Jew, and I am a Jewish American Princess. I proudly reclaim those identities. I say “oy vey” every other word. I lose my voice at every holiday. I know the words but not the tunes to the prayers, or vice versa. I fight to remember my Hebrew. I complain about eight days of eating matzah every year, but I wouldn’t give up matzah and celebrating Pesach for anything. I am the sum of the approximately 210 pieces of matzah I’ve eaten in my life and the 980 or so pieces to come. It’s practically cardboard, but it’s a mitzvah, so I do it. It’s what we do, so I do it. I am 1190 pieces of matzah because I am the Hebrews escaping Egypt.

I am Jewish because there is no one way to be Jewish. You can be Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, Sephardic, or countless other ethnicities. You can be Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, a combination of those, something else entirely, or none of the above. You can believe there isn’t a God. You can live by the letter or the essence. You can be a matriarchal Jew, a patriarchal Jew, or both, or neither—you can convert. You can have been Jewish for centuries or you can reclaim your Judaism after the Spanish Inquisition or the Holocaust or countless other times we were persecuted. You can keep kosher. You can be involved in youth groups or Jewish school or camp or not. You can be a diaspora Jew and a Zionist, or one or the other, or neither. My practice of Judaism is not my sister’s practice of Judaism, which is not my neighbor’s practice. And we are all Jewish.

I am Jewish because “Am Yisrael Chai” even though it is not easy to be Jewish. Being a Jew in Plano, Texas, is a pretty similar experience for everyone. There are tons of Jews, no rampant anti-Semitism, Jewish day schools, tons of synagogues, and everyone is expected to join our thriving BBYO community. In fact, BBYO isn’t the only youth group. We cannot forget that we are the lucky ones, that it is so easy to be Jewish here, even celebrated. This false sense of safety is shattered every time I see a swastika or hear anti-Semitic comments. I educate myself to educate others, because it is 2020, and I’m still hearing blood libel comments and jokes about the Holocaust. I watch everything I do because I know I am a reflection of myself, my family, and my Jewish brothers and sisters. I want to make them proud.

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