Confirmation Class of 2012 (5772) Speeches
What Being Jewish Means To Me
year, I spent eleven weeks in Israel
with the American
Hebrew Academy. One of the most impactful moments for me was
spending Simchat Torah in Jerusalem. We arrived in Jerusalem the day before Simchat Torah. That
night, we had an option to go to a Yemenite Orthodox Synagogue to celebrate the
holiday. I was walking through the streets of Jerusalem with several of my friends. The streets were empty, there were people
wearing kippahs waving at us while walking to our destination. We arrived at the synagogue, and met people
who were from a different place than we were and spoke a different language than ours. We all shared the common bond of
Judaism. After the wondrous service, we
walked through the empty streets of Jerusalem
singing songs and celebrating our Judaism.
We were all different people from different backgrounds or cultures
sharing the common bond of Judaism.
is more than a religion to me. Judaism is a culture, a nation, and a common
bond among people. Judaism is a unique
religion, because it allows you to have a connection with Jews from any
place. I was able to share my Judaism
with people whose beliefs ranged from secular to orthodox. I first discovered this concept in a smaller
setting when I attended B’nai Shalom Day School. I was a student there from Kindergarten to
Eighth Grade. While at B’nai Shalom, I
was exposed to Jews from various backgrounds and was exposed to experiences
that let me begin to formulate my Jewish identity. I did not fully develop my Jewish identity
until I attended the American
American Hebrew Academy
exposed me to new ideas, Jews from various eclectic backgrounds, and
experiences that had a profound effect on me.
While at the Academy, I took classes and learned about subjects ranging
from Jewish Philosophy to Moot Beit Din, which is the Jewish equivalent to Mock
Trial. I spent my first trimester as a
junior studying in Israel. I have attended conferences and competitions
like the AIPAC High School summit earlier this year. I
was part of a team that came in first at this year’s Moot Beit Din competition
sum, Judaism has shaped the person I have become today. I have been able to cultivate a strong Jewish
identity, and I am confident that I will live the rest of my life as a
Jew. I have been in a predominantly
Jewish environment for the majority of my life.
Next year, I am attending Appalachian State University, which has a
small Jewish population. I am looking
forward to this change in environment, and believe that it will not affect my
strong Jewish identity negatively and may even strengthen it. I will be able to teach others about Judaism,
and will be able to spread all the good ideals that Judaism has taught me. Judaism will always be important to me, and I
will always be a part of the amazing culture, religion, and the Jewish people.
Benjamin Goldberg is the son of
Pamela and Laurence Goldberg. Ben was born
in High Point and attended B’nai Shalom and the American Hebrew Academy. Ben has been to Israel twice, once with B’nai
Shalom and once for a trimester with the American Hebrew
Academy. He has participated in the AIPAC High School
Summit. Ben is attending Appalachian State University
next year as part of the honors college.
What Being Jewish Means To Me
I was asked to write about what being Jewish meant to me, I hesitated for a
moment. There are many things I absolutely love about being Jewish. The food.
Latkes, Matzah Ball Soup, Falafel, Hummus. I probably sound like the Zohan
right now. I have always appreciated my grandmother’s and mother’s cooking to
its fullest extent. The artistic value of Judaism in the tallits, kippas, and
other forms of artwork I find absolutely beautiful. I have always been able to
speak comfortable with my Rabbis when I needed them, which is something that is
hard to find at this time. In a sense they always lead me to make good
decisions. My mother always had me remember; “Is it safe? Is it smart? Would
your rabbis be proud?” I am standing here right now celebrating Confirmation;
however, I haven’t been the practicing Jew my Grandma wished for me. Through my
years at Temple,
I have questioned many things about the aspects of the things we celebrate and
why we do so. I haven’t always disagreed with everything, but sometimes I just
didn’t always understand.
would have to say the most important to me about being Jewish is my volunteer
work. The things I have accomplished and the things I am capable of doing in
my freshmen year until about my junior year I was a madricha, or a teacher’s
assistant, in the pre-school class and for the art class. Through Temple and out side of Temple, I have continued volunteer work with
things I love to do; volunteer with the March of Dimes, Whirlies softball camp,
and for clubs at school including NHS and NHAS. The most rewarding volunteer
project I have participated in was my trip to New Orleans
past December I participated in the trip to New Orleans
attends almost every year. To sum the trip up, it was nothing short of amazing,
but also sad because enough never seems to be enough, and there is always work
to be done for this community as well as many others. This is a trip for
juniors and seniors to join other students in restoring the community of New Orleans that was
washed away from the flooding during Hurricane Katrina. Through the trip we
perform mitzvot, which are the services provided through the act of “human
kindness” During the trip we restored blessings of New Orleans through environment replanting,
feeding those at the shelter, and giving someone their sense of home back. This
was my first year attending the trip, and I wish I went the previous year. When
going on this trip I had no idea what I was in for, I did not know what to
expect, however I came home really experiencing making a difference to a
community through these Jewish values of Mitzvot, to the point where in the end,
it became my community. I became a part of this healing of this place where
from states away I couldn’t do anything to help. It felt really good to be able
to be part of this, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it if not for the Temple trip. Through Judaism’s
influence of volunteer work, it really allowed me to engross myself in the trip
and really make the difference I wanted to make to give back to the community
of New Orleans.
being part of Temple
I wouldn’t have been a part of this trip as well as saw that volunteer efforts
are the most important aspect of being Jewish for me. I hope I can leave the
world a better place than how I found it.
you Rabbi Fred for growing up with me; you knew me when I was even shorter than
I am now believe it or not. And Rabbi Andy, you were there for me when I needed
comfort in a dark time years ago. You helped me through a really tough time.
Maura Hartzman is the daughter
of George and Robin Hartzman, and the sister of Karly Hartzman. She was born in Greensboro NC
and attended TEPS as one of the two girls in the entire class! She will be graduating from Grimsley Senior High School. She is in the National Honors Society,
National Honors Art Society, and volunteers at UNCG’s Weatherspoon as a teen art
guide. She has been to New Orleans to help with restore areas
damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Maura will
be attending UNC Chapel Hill in the fall where
she plans to study Biology.
What Being Jewish Means to Me
didn’t grow up around any Jewish people. The closest synagogue, which couldn’t
have been any bigger than our sanctuary, was at least 30 minutes from our house
and my brother and I were the only Jewish kids in our entire school district.
Kids would tease me about being Jewish, but just because they didn’t know
anything about it. They were ignorant. This made it hard for me to feel
connected to my Judaism since I always felt so isolated because of my faith…
but then we moved to North Carolina.
we first moved here in the summer of 2006, my parents were faced with dilemma
of choosing where to send me to middle school. Friends and neighbors told them
of “the horrors of public middle school” and scared them into a different
decision, B’nai Shalom Jewish Day School.
was nervous. I had gone to public school all my life and private school was
such a foreign concept, especially one that was entirely Jewish. I would be
surrounded by other Jews, just like me, every day, something I never thought
would happen. I hoped that maybe this was what I needed to finally feel closer
to my religion. I enjoyed B’nai Shalom, the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, the morning
prayers, and most of all, our class trip to Israel, but when it came time for
the next phase of my education I opted to go back to public school. I hadn’t
found the epiphany I was looking for.
still kept in touch with my friends from B’nai and I remained active in Temple, attending
services and as a Madricha on Tuesdays and Sundays, but I still felt like
something was missing, that is, until I got the opportunity to go on the March
of the Living.
never seen so many Jews gathered together in one place before. There were
thousands of us, marching in defiance, marching as one. For once, I no longer
felt like a minority. I was a part of something so much bigger. I found what I was searching for. The
experiences on that trip changed my life.
me, Judaism isn’t just about attending services or keeping kosher, it’s about
community. The ability to share a bond and connect with total strangers just
because they are also Jewish, it’s amazing. Being in Israel again showed me how
comforting it felt to be the majority for once. I was surrounded by hundreds of
thousands of people and they all felt like family. I felt more Jewish than I
ever had in my entire life. I finally feel connected to my Judaism.
Mackenzie Morris is the daughter
of Marcy and Ed Morris, and the sister of Edward Morris. She was born in Pittsburgh,
PA and moved to Greensboro in 7th grade. Mackenzie attended B’nai Shalom and will be
graduating from Grimsley
High School. She has been a regular volunteer at the Natural Science
Center, JSPCA, and a Madricha at Temple on Tuesdays and
Sundays. She has recently returned from
the March of the Living. Mackenzie plans
to attend the University
of Alabama this fall
where she will study Mechanical Engineering.
What Being Jewish Means to Me
does being Jewish mean to me? It’s a question I’m sure all of us have asked
ourselves at one point or another. However, when I ask myself this question,
all I can seem to think of is tradition. Judaism has always been part of my
life. As a child, all I can remember is family tradition: grandma cooking
brisket, Aunt Jodi singing ‘Dai-Dayenu’ at Passover seders and always delicious
family recipes surrounding the dining room table on Jewish holidays.
all began at B’nai Shalom Day School, which I attended for many years. From
there I have become an active member in Hebrew School,
Sunday school and now Hebrew High. There has not been a year or even a month
where I can’t remember waking up early on a Sunday morning for Hebrew School,
or even in middle school on a Saturday morning getting ready for our classmates
Bar and Bat Mitzvah’s and of course the parties afterwards.
my involvement with Temple
Emmanuel didn’t end as I
entered high school. Each year I participated in mitzvah day here at Temple, babysitting on
almost every High Holiday and working in the carnival on every Pesach.
past four years in high school have really opened my eyes to Judaism. I have
been fortunate enough to attend the L’Taken seminar in Washington, D.C.,
at which I had the experience to lobby Congress. Yet after all of my studying,
programs and hard work here at Temple Emmanuel, I still had yet to fulfill my wish of
this year, that wish had come true. About a month ago I had the privilege of
going on the March of the Living with about 8,000 of my brothers and sisters.
We went to Poland
for a week and then we were off to the holy land. In just such a small amount
of time, two weeks, I experienced everything from the Auschwitz
gas chamber to Ben Yehuda Street
on Independence Day.
whole experience was absolutely incredible. I had never felt so close to Jews
in my life. Growing up in a small town of Greensboro,
NC Jews are the minority but being in Israel where Jews are the majority
is a completely different feeling. I felt at home in Israel, safe, protected. I have
come to the realization of how important it is to maintain unity among the
feel it is necessary to stay actively involved and connected with my Judaism
so that I can pass the stories on to my children one day. This way, the Jewish
religion, which so many Jews have fought and died for, will not simply fade
away. I now understand that Judaism is more than just a religion, culture, or
rather just a way of life. For it is a true privilege to be Jewish.
Melanie Novick is the daughter
of Nancy Unger and Lee Novick. Melanie
was born in Greensboro
and attended B’nai Shalom through the first grade. Melanie will be graduating from Grimsely High School. She is a member of the National Honors
Society, Key Club, Jr. SPCA, and participated in the March of the Living. Melanie looks forward to attending UNC Wilmington this fall.
What Being Jewish Means To Me
Being a Jewish teenager in this community has afforded me experiences very few people can say they’ve had. Opportunities that allowed me to grow and appreciate life, all while instilling in me a strong sense of religion. In my short seventeen years I have traveled to Israel three times, attended Jewish summer camp, became a leader in a Jewish youth organization, traveled to Washington D.C. and New Orleans with Temple sponsored trips, as well as traveled across the world to the Eastern European country of Moldova to enrich Jewish culture in a small community. These experiences have, without a doubt, shaped the person I am today. For me, being Jewish means perseverance, community, and the realization that we must give back.
I grew up attending B'nai Shalom Day School with 16 students in my graduating class. Judaism was all I knew. I grew up learning about Jewish holidays, Hebrew language, and prayers. If you had asked me all those years ago how I felt about attending a private Jewish school, I would have said that I enjoyed it, but I craved the diversity of public school. I decided to attend Grimsley High School and the decision was not easy. Grimsley was extremely intimidating and I was part of an overwhelming minority of Jews. I was determined, however, to make it work. My parents were concerned that I might lose connection with Judaism, but I can honestly say that attending Grimsley only made my connection stronger. I realized, to my naïve surprise, that Judaism isn't something that everyone understands. If someone said something negative, I would think about all the times in history Jewish people experienced discrimination and how each time we overcome it. This helped to fuel my indifference to anything they said. There will always be someone who has something negative to say, in any situation, and being Jewish at a public school has taught me how to step back and respect myself, my religion, and my culture enough not to let it get to me.
Throughout high school, I found ways to keep Judaism a major part of my life. I joined B'nai Brith Youth Organization, volunteered as a madricha (teaching assistant) at Sunday school, and was a delegate of the L'Taken social justice seminar in DC. I felt a strong sense of community surrounding me. A sense of community that I feel whenever I walk through the doors of Temple Emanuel, and immediately am surrounded by family friends who have known me since I was a child. This sense of community is evident wherever Judaism exists.
Above all, the most important part of my Judaism is Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. I really love that this is such an important aspect of our religion. I took pride in standing by Temple in their support against the passing of Amendment One. I appreciate their respect for equality throughout our state. With the Temple, I traveled to New Orleans last year to rebuild homes and clear lots in the 9th ward. The experience was incredible. This summer, I attended a trip with the Jewish Federation to Beltsy, Moldova and worked as a counselor Camp Delet. Camp Delet is a place where a tiny Jewish community is free to learn about their religion and have a fun relaxing week with their families. The young people amazed me with their interest in Judaism. They were eager to learn and experience anything they could, whether it was making edible sukkot out of chocolate and pretzels, or hearing us talk about our own personal Jewish experiences. It is much harder to be a Jew in Moldova than it is in America. It made me think of all the times I had groaned about getting up early for Sunday school, or having to sit through a long High Holiday service. I now know, I will never again take for granted the freedom I have to believe and worship however I want.
This April, I attended March of the Living with our Temple. This trip was the ultimate Jewish experience. It combined perseverance, community, and giving back, everything that Judaism is for me. The trip opened my eyes to many different things about life, and to those parents worried about sending their kids away for two weeks during the school year I would say this: the life lessons you learn on the March aren't something you can get in a traditional school setting and trust me, it's worth it. Being Jewish is an inherent part of me, it has shaped who I am, and I hope it continues to affect my life in all ways possible.
Sydney Plovsky is the daughter
of Debra Schoenhoff and Gerald Plovsky, and the sister of Rachel Plovsky. She was born in Greensboro
and attended Grimsley High School after B’nai Shalom Day School. Sydney
has been an active member of BBYO. She
also volunteered with Camp Delet in Beltsy, Modova, and attended the L’Taken
Seminar in Washington, DC,
the Temple trip to rebuild New Orleans, and the March of the
Living. She plans to attend Elon University
in the fall.
What Being Jewish Means To Me
For me, Judaism is not a choice. I
was born Jewish. It was instilled in me everyday of my life with its laws,
traditions and heritage. The tremendous sacrifices endured by my
ancestors who suffered throughout history, has brought me to this day, with the
advantages I have today to carry on the true meaning of Torah and bring it into
*It is because of you Rabbi Guttman that I
know what the meaning of Judaism is and how to live it. You have afforded
me an opportunity to learn my faith with lots of gusto and have taught me that
sitting on your tush was not enough but going out and being that action of change
is so important.
*It is because of you Rabbi Koren that I
ended up at Camp Coleman and spent my seven summers’s
being a camper, and taking leadership roles in the Machon program. Camp Coleman
provided me an opportunity to join hands with many new friends throughout the
Southeast and celebrate Shabbat together, sharing unbelievable memories
together and a chance to develop my Jewish identity further. You have
also shared with me the meaning of being a minority and how at times it may be
difficult to grow up Jewish in a predominately Christian community.
*It is because of you Mitchel that my
study habits have evolved to what it is today. Without your structured guidance
and lessons prior to becoming a Bar Mitzvah; it certainly would have been a tougher
journey. Without my Friday nights at the “Blumenthal home” and helping
Marian find her place during the responsive readings; the great memories would
not be there.
*It is because of all the volunteers and
my Hebrew school teachers that I have had; my Jewish education has certainly
been enhanced and constantly evolving.
And lastly it is the congregation that I
grew up with starting at the Greene
Street location that I have come to call my Jewish
community. The community that has inspired me to live Jewishly and has
been so supportive every step of the way.
The culmination of finally visiting Israel via the
Nifty Israel program two years ago was full of so many fun experiences and
amazing opportunities. I am sure I will always look back to the summer of
2010 as a positive and thrilling four weeks. Not only did I learn about
my Jewish identity and connection to Israel but if seemed as though my
trip helped me gain personal independence, personal development and personal
growth. I now see my role that I will do my best to build a higher Jewish
future and I will live it more productively.
My participation in the NFTY program
enabled me to explore many areas throughout Israel. I particularly
enjoyed visiting Kibbutz Lotan, one of the two Reform Kibbutzim in the South
part of Israel.
We spent the day there learning about ecological Zionism and their unique
commitment to a sustainable desert lifestyle. Of course my first visit to
the Kotel – the Western Wall – was incredible to see in person rather than
reading about it for so many years in text books.
It was surely an emotional visit that I
will never forget. Masada was an incredible moving experience along with
finally getting into the Dead Sea and
experiencing the weightlessness of being in such a mineral-rich body of water.
In closing I am sometimes, asked what my
Bar Mitzvah meant to me, what Judaism means to me, and now what my confirmation
means to me. Thanks to all of you, It is because of you the congregation
that I find that the answer. It lies in the importance of learning,
tolerance, faith and keeping a high profile in the community. That is
what Temple Emanuel life has meant to me.
I suspect my next year will also be of
constant growth as I begin school at Virginia
at the college of
Engineering. In 1896, the
university adopted Ut Prosim, Latin for "That I May Serve," as its
motto. You can be assured that I will
take my Jewish training to a new high and dedicated level as I continue to
Joshua Adam Podolle is the son of
Faryl and Mark Podolle. He was born at Duke
in Durham and raised in Elon NC. He
will be graduating from Western
School. Joshua has been a member of
the National Honor Society, serving as secretary in his senior year. He
has been a varsity player on the Soccer and Lacrosse teams. Joshua was a
participant in the L'Taken Social Justice Seminar in Washington D.C.
He served as Madrich at Temple
Emanuel for 4 years. In
the summer of 2010, Joshua was part of the NTFY in Israel program. He attended Camp Coleman for
7 years as a camper and returned last summer as a Machon. He is excited to
become a Hokie this fall in the college of engineering at Virginia Tech in
What Being Jewish Means To Me
Judaism has definitely made a huge impact
on my life.
since I can remember, Temple
Emanuel has been in my
life. Pre-K through 8th grade, I always
wanted to be like my Madrich. I always thought being a Madrich must be the
greatest thing ever. They weren’t like the teachers -- they were in high school
and secretly not that much smarter than you were! I stepped into the 6th grade
class where I would be the Madrich for that entire year. I was honored to be in
an age group not much younger than I was. A majority of the time they don’t let
first year madrichim go into any grade higher than 4th. But for some reason
Rabbi Andy had a lot of faith in me.
been lucky enough to go to three different Jewish summer camps. The last summer
camp I attended was called Camp Tel-Yehudah (otherwise known as TY). Some of
the best times of my life took place there. It’s a place where you can go and
hang out with a bunch of Jewish kids around your age who are just like you and
are extremely fun and nice. The brilliance behind Camp TY
is that they know that you are growing up and deserve the freedom to hang out
and the freedom to choose certain activities you want to do rather than just
pick ones for you. I loved the fact that I could spend a couple hours each day
just to goof around with my new friends and going to services that we the
campers led and other Jewish-orientated activities.
able to go to New Orleans
first as a sophomore and again this year as a senior. New Orleans is a great place to go visit,
there are lots of fun things you can do but there are still areas that are
still areas that haven’t been touched since the hurricane that shook their
world. We met up with another group of Jews from Miami and started to rebuild the broken down
areas. We could really see the result of
the good we did on the faces of the homeowners that we helped and the community
leaders we meet with. After all the hard work we did we had some fun in the
city, rewarding ourselves for the mitzvah we just did.
most recent adventure was the March Of The Living. On the March we went on a 2
week trip to Poland and Israel. In Poland we saw
experienced the death camps and the horrors that the Nazi’s left in their wake.
We marched from Aushwitz to Birkenau waving our Israeli flags high in the air.
The horrors of the death camps will linger with me all my life. Millions of my
past ancestors seemed to somehow cry out to me to remember these places I’ve
been, to help fight to keep our hold on Israel and to never let such a
horrible event ever happen again. When we finally left Poland after a week of bad food and depressing
sights, we stepped into Israel.
if you haven’t been there, is one of the most naturally beautiful places you’ll
ever see. The first day we went to a beautiful area next to the Red Sea and ate the most delicious breakfast I’ve ever
had in my life. After a week of horror we spent the next week having lots of
fun. We kept in mind the things that troubled Israel by visiting Ster’ot and
participating in Yom HaZikaron. We did everything that you would think a
tourist in Israel would do;
float in the Dead Sea, climb mount
Masada, pray at the
kotel, and much more. But more importantly we as a group learned how important Israel is to the Jewish people and that we need
to help fight to keep Israel
as a haven for any Jew who is in need of a home.
I’ve learned anything from being Jewish it’s that:
יש הרבה שבילים לקחת, אתה
פשוט חייב לבחור אחד
yesh harbeh sh’veeleem lekachat, atah p’shoot chayav
are many paths to take, you just have to choose one.
Jesse Steinberg is the son of Laura Bonasia and Mark Steinberg, stepson of Bob
Bonasia, and brother of Sam Steinberg. Jesse has been a Madrich for the
Religious School for the past four years, participated twice on the Temple’s mitzvah trip to New Orleans
and went on the March of the Living trip to Poland
last month. This summer he will be working at the URJ’s Six Points Sports Academy
for the third year in a row. Jesse will graduate from Grimsley High School this
June and will be attending North Carolina State University in the fall, where
he plans to study Biomedical Engineering.
What Being Jewish Means To Me
When I was younger the word Jew, like many other words, was absolute.
There was no why, what, when, where, or how. I was a Jew because a Jew was what
With the years I learned more about Judaism. I learned in elementary
school about the stories of the Torah, the megilot, the holidays. I was
interested by Judaism, don't get me wrong. But I was also interested in
chemistry. That didn’t mean that I was
going to study and research it on my own. I was a Jew because a Jew was what I
was. Judaism and Jews were separate things.
My thoughts about Judaism were largely affected by the way I was raised.
Both of my paternal grandparents lived in Germany and escaped before the
start of the war. My grandfather moved to Israel alone. He changed his name
from the religious-sounding Mendel to the very patriotic Menachem. My
grandmother remained religious. After the two married and started a family,
their beliefs started to mix. The non-religious pioneer and the religious girl
made their own traditions. They did not keep Shabbat or go to beit haknesset,
but they celebrated the holidays with a big family meal, a few prayers, and
many, many Jewish songs.
My maternal grandparents are both survivors from the old territories of Poland, what is today Ukraine. After the war my
grandmother became very resentful towards the organized religion that had taken
her childhood away and destroyed her life. In her house, she would not speak of
the Holocaust and had almost no interest, until recently, in understanding or
even learning about Judaism. My mother did not receive a very solid Jewish
background in her house, but she did want it. She was part of a Jewish youth
movement, went to camp, and even belonged to a Reform synagogue, desperately
trying to reconnect with her old roots. After graduating college, my mother
made Alyiah, going to Israel
to find her spirituality. Instead, she found my father.
Just like my mother and father, my brother and I were raised very
secularly. I was always very skeptical about the idea of god. Being a visual
person by nature, I had a terribly hard time imagining the unimaginable. I
decided that the almighty must be something high up. So I looked up in the sky
and I saw extraordinary white things floating over us; clouds. They fit the
description of god. They saw everything from up above and they were pure and
holy white. So from that day on, god resided in the sky.
My brother and I were walking to school one day discussing god. He asked
me what god was made of. "God is made of clouds!" I said abruptly. He
responded "Well then, who created the clouds?" "God did" I
answered with no hesitation. How was a 10 year old asking an 8 year old such a
stupid question? "Well if god is made of clouds, and god made the
clouds.... then god made himself?" He found a fallacy in my idea. From
that day on I would not believe in god.
For a while after I fought with whether I was agnostic or atheist.
Sometimes I still do.
“Maybe I am not a religious Jew,” I began to think. “But I am still a Jew.” So, as a kid, I came to the conclusion that I
was a national Jew, one who is from the Jewish nation. A nation is a group of people who share a
culture, language, and usually a land. I was a Jew who lived in Israel, was proud of Israel, surrounded by Jewish
culture, activities, and people. I was a Jew because I lived in Israel.
A few years later, my family and I moved to Greensboro. I knew I was still Jewish, but
now I wasn't sure what this meant. Being uprooted from my land, I felt as if I
got even closer to Judaism.
My parents sent my brother and me to Bnai Shalom and signed us up for Temple Emanuel.
At first I didn't understand why they were taking all of these measures to make
us “religious.” I finally understood why they felt a need for this eruption of
Jewish presence in out lives. We couldn't be dormant. If we weren't proactive,
we would have gotten lost in the American culture and lost our Judaism along
with it. How perplexing: now that I was out of the Jewish state, I felt more
Jewish. I became interested in Jewish history, literature, and fell in love
with some of the midrashim and values of Judaism.
Although I feel more connected to Judaism in the US, I feel that I have gained a deeper
appreciation of having grown up in Israel. Thanks to my Judaism, I had a different way
of viewing things. I questioned what I needed with no hesitation just like my
forefathers. My Judaism, most of all, made me who I am, and strengthened my
Zionist nature. I will do what I can to help Israel. I do think Israel is important, but at the same time I
don't think one must live in Israel
to be Jewish. Some are meant to be ambassadors for the Jews. I think learning
Hebrew opens up a huge portal for understanding Judaism, but some don't and I
am ok with it. I do think that some are Jewish just because they are born
Jewish, and that converts are just as Jewish as Orthodox. I believe that any
Jew and person could learn positive things from Judaism and that the only kind
of bad Jew is someone who uses his title or religion to excuse harming others.
I've realized there are infinite ways of defining a Jew. Innumerable
combinations of thoughts and practice.
So I guess my initial thought was the truest and the purest answer to
this: I am a Jew because a Jew is what I am.
Talya Stern was born and
raised in Israel until the age of 11, when she moved to Greensboro with her family. She attended B’nai Shalom for 5th
grade and middle school, and recently graduated from the American Hebrew
Academy. She plans to be a counselor at a Young Judaea
camp this summer, and plans to spend next year in Israel,
studying, volunteering and hiking throughout Israel.
What Being Jewish Means To Me
Claire Van der Linden
up in an interfaith home, I found it challenging to identify with one religion.
I’d go to Sunday school on Sundays and church with my mom once and a while, but
neither religion really stood out as more important to me. When I was younger, my friends would question
me on what I truly believed. Honestly,
I’d be lying to say there weren’t times that I wasn’t confused about what I did
believe and about which religion to practice as a grown up. As I have gotten
older, however, I realize what is more important than knowing what exactly I
believe, is the fact that I do believe.
In today’s day and age, I feel like religion has become a lot less of a
factor in a good deal of young people’s lives and I see a lot of my friends
without having any faith at all. When I think about my friends who say they
don’t even believe in God, it makes me realize just how blessed I am to have
grown up in a home with not just one religion, but two; allowing me to have
DOUBLE the faith. Faith in God is a
central feeling in our family.
a month ago, I was given the amazing opportunity to go on The March of the
Living. Those two weeks were ones that were the most life-changing and moving
I’ve ever had the privilege to experience.
The week in Poland,
while it was probably one of the hardest weeks of my life, was extremely meaningful. Being able see firsthand the horrors that
took place some 70 years ago was indescribable.
One event stood out to me in particular. This was something I noticed
the first time we were all together saying Kaddish at a mass grave. In Poland, it was generally overcast
the entire time if not raining, but as we stood together on that day and said
Kaddish, the sun came out. The same
thing occurred again a few hours later at Treblinka and again and again throughout
the different death camps we went to.
The most brilliant example was during actual March of the Living
ceremony as 10,000 of us said Kaddish for those who perished even on the very
ground we stood on. It was the most miraculous thing I have ever witnessed. The
only explanation in my mind was that God and the 6,000,000 were watching over
us and smiling, and that was the source of the light that pierced through the
clouds every time we said Kaddish.
had never been to Israel before the March, and being able to go with my best
friends after coming from a place where even today one is stifled for being
Jewish, was the greatest feeling I’ve ever had.
On the day of the march in Israel, our group along with
thousands of other Jews marched to the Kotel while laughing, cheering, and
singing. That alone was an incredible feeling.
When we got to the Kotel and I was able to go up and put a prayer in the
Western Wall and then proceed to pray with thousands of other Jews at one of
the holiest places in the world, it made me cry. I had never felt so proud or
such an intense love for Judaism than in moment. Being in Israel
definitely lit a spark in me and I plan to fan that flame through immersing
myself in Judaism and hopefully returning to Israel as soon as I can.
Claire Evelyn Van der Linden is the loving
daughter of Scott and Mary, and loving sister of Joshua and Eric. Claire has been a part of Temple Emanuel
since starting TERS in Kindergarten. She has been an active participant in many Temple events and simchas including her Bat Mitzvah,
attending the March of the Living, L’Taken, and New Orleans Rebirth. Claire has also been a Madricha. Claire will
be pursuing a career in musical theater while attending Western Carolina
University in the fall.