I was in kindergarten when I first started Hebrew school. As a kindergartener, everything seemed easy and so I didn’t really know what I was getting into; I mean, this was just the place that my siblings went to on Saturdays and Wednesdays. Flash forward a few weeks and I was really beginning to dread the massive white building. It interrupted sleepovers on Saturday morning and took my free time on Wednesdays. The teacher didn’t even let us pet the class guinea pig! That’s a crime to a kindergartener. A few years later and I’m begging my mom to let me quit religious school. I told her about how I was sick of Torahs and their musty smell, Rabbis who never stop talking, and our dull teacher. I was prepared to cry and scream, but before that was even an issue my Mother spoke.
“You don’t have to go anymore.”
I was stunned and before I could muster a resounding YES, my mom continued, “Unless you want to have a Bat Mitzvah.”
This Bat Mitzvah, this coming of age in ceremony was, in my eyes, just a short service followed by an extravagant party. It was the sweet sixteen of Judaism. I reluctantly continued going to Hebrew school, begrudgingly getting up at eight thirty every Saturday and giving up an afternoon each Wednesday. Although at that time I was too stubborn to admit it, I began to see Hebrew school as less of preparation for the party and more about truly enriching myself in the wonders of my culture. I learned about the hardships that my ancestors went through to simply stay Jewish. Many years ago my own great grandfather had to leave his home and come to America alone, only because he was Jewish. I never got to meet Harry, but I admire his bravery in doing that and want to carry the legacy of our religion on.
At the beginning of the sixth grade school year, my Hebrew school teacher posed an important question: “Who are you?” I’m not really sure what the answer is yet, but I really think that a big part of me lies in embracing my awesome heritage. That’s because the people and the things of my past are the only reasons that I am the way that I am today. Other people also have a right to know the answer to this question and should not be held back by stereotypes or restrictions. Nobody should be held back from his or her identity, which is why diversity is so important. Now it is my turn to ask, “Who are YOU?”