In past posts, my blog mainly focused on the beauty of diversity in terms of culture, race and ethnicity.
However, diversity encompasses much more than that. It includes different religions, political/philosophical views, sexual orientations and other aspects.
This week, I am delving into the Jewish religion. The Jewish faith constantly gets the brunt of criticism. Whether it is stereotyped, shamed or ostracized, Judaism is never fully accepted by the masses.
As Helena tells us in the following post, the term “Jewish” is constantly mistaken as an ethnicity rather than a religion.
Religion is a sensitive topic. Unlike race, it can be changed. Belief, without a doubt, is a powerful thing. It is what motivates us, inspires us, remedies us and ultimately gives us the will to carry on.
These virtues of religion are automatically contradicted once differing beliefs conflict with each other. When we choose not to coexist, we choose to destroy motivation, hinder inspiration, inflict pain and ultimately sabotage lives.
It is important that we cleanse ourselves of false conclusions and offensive misconceptions. They only bring about negativity when there is so much potential for positivity.
We certainly do not need to agree with another's beliefs, but we must try our best to tolerate them.
Insight Into the Jewish Faith
How long have you been Jewish?
I was born Jewish, so I’ve been Jewish my whole life. I didn’t start practicing until the 5th grade.
Why did you decide to start practicing?
My mom is Jewish and my dad is Catholic. My mom wasn’t really practicing her faith, and my Dad enrolled me in a Catholic school from Pre-K – 8th grade. When I was in the 3rd grade, I read The Diary of Anne Frank. I started exploring my culture more. I figured that I never quite connected to Christianity, but I did connect with Judaism.
How was it like attending Catholic school while Jewish?
It was good. It got weirder towards middle school, when I was really connecting with my Jewish faith. I got excluded from a lot of assignments. I think it was nice because I know I want to minor in comparative religion. I think that was a good basis for that. I spend a lot of time thinking about what it would've been like being in private Jewish school, but ultimately, I am who I am because of my basis at St. James Catholic School.
What about Judaism did you connect with more than Christianity?
What I like about Judaism versus Christianity, is that Christianity is more about believing. In the Christian faith, if you believe, repent and forgive you will get into heaven. However, in Judaism it’s all about what you do rather than what you say. You are a good person based on your good deeds and what you do.
How have you lived out your Jewish faith throughout high school?
I’m heavily involved in my youth group. I am president of my synagogue right now and I was secretary of North and Central Florida for a while. My youth group is divided into little sectors. I was always focused on the religious and education side of it. I was Religion and Education Correspondent for North and Central Florida for a while. I love it! I do all these sort of retreats, write programs and attend leadership training. I go to synagogue every week and give a lot of sermons.
When is it that you felt proud enough to have little stickers on your phone and computer showcasing your Jewish faith? Is it somewhat like the Christian tenet of evangelizing, or simply being proud?
It’s just being proud. I joined my youth group, United Synagogue Youth, in 6th grade. In middle school, we met once a year with Jewish kids from all over the state. That was really when I started becoming proud to be Jewish, and it’s grown every year since then.
Is evangelizing a tenet in the Jewish faith as well?
Not at all. We have 613 commandments in the Torah, and not one of them is about converting people. My rabbi and I talk about this a lot. Judaism is open and you are welcome to come, but we don’t want to push our faith on anyone. You will never see Jews going up to people’s doors and stuff like that. For me, it is important that religion is about choosing a faith that is fit for you and not letting your views be imposed by someone else.
What was the catalyst of your religious breakthrough?
Definitely when I had my bat mitzvah. I studied for a long time because I was so behind the other kids who had been studying their whole lives. All the other kids going into bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah training have been studying since kindergarten, but I didn’t start until the 5th grade. I was behind in understanding Hebrew and reading the Torah. Between 5th-8th grade, I dedicated all my time to learning about Judaism in order to become a bat mitzvah and that moment [having my bat mitzvah] really solidified who I am.
Has your faith impacted your mom's?
Yes. She never really went to synagogue because in France, where she grew up, they didn’t have a synagogue where they lived. She would only attend the synagogue on the high holidays, but now she comes to synagogue with me every week. I taught her some Hebrew as well.
What are the misconceptions of the Jewish faith?
A lot of stuff haha! I get a lot of anti-Semitic comments. I hear things like, “Jews are greedy”, “Jews have big noses” and “Jews killed Jesus”. There is so much anti-Semitism in the world today, especially in France. It’s just because a lot of people do not know what Judaism is all about and [have trouble] differentiating a religion from an ethnicity. A lot of people talk about Judaism as an ethnicity and not a religion. I don’t think that Jewish is really an ethnicity.
Have these comments offended you?
It has definitely offended me. I’ve had people tell me that Israel is irrelevant or Jews don’t deserve to have a home state. That really hurts, but I know that fueling hate with hate isn’t going to help anything. We had a session about this topic in my youth group this weekend actually. If you talk to people about the facts, they’ll start to understand more. There was an instance in a Young Democrats meeting when I changed a person’s point of view about Israel by simply clarifying their misconceptions.
How do these experiences impact your faith?
It has definitely made my faith stronger, because it solidifies my beliefs. I was touring USF, where they have a Jewish center. However, it was more focused on Israel advocacy than religion because the “Justice for Palestine” kids like to mess with the Jewish kids on campus. It’s a really anti-Semitic campus. In the end, these situations make my faith stronger because I realize that people who are not Jewish simply don’t understand. Something that my youth group and I like to say is that from the outside looking in you can’t understand, but from the inside looking out you can’t explain it. That’s how I feel about Judaism.
How do your political views correlate with your religious views?
They have something to do with each other, but they are mostly separate. I identify as a Democrat, but I fall more in line with the Republican view regarding the Israel situation. Republicans are in more support of the country, while Democrats tend to stand-off from it. Israel is important for the Jewish people. Though I do believe in a two state solution, I don’t think it is possible.
What do you wish people could understand about your faith?
To understand that is just a religion. Just like Christianity or Islam, it is a religion and not just a group of people. From my personal experience in Catholic school, I don’t feel as though Christians get the same amount of backlash as Jews. We mostly have the same core beliefs.
What Jewish principle resonates with you the most?
Actions speak louder than words.
You are planning on going to Israel this summer! Tell me more about that!
In September, I’m moving to Israel for a year. It’s sort of like a gap year program. During the first year semester, I will be living in Jerusalem and studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. During the second semester, I will be living and working on an immigrant youth village. I will work with teens who have issues or immigrated to the country, for example Syrian refugees.
What do hope to gain from the experience?
I hope to gain more knowledge about world religions, but also the reward of impacting others. For my second semester, I am allowed to use whatever college track I want. I chose one that I could use to really beautify a city and help those living there.
Why is it important that society coexists?
Everyone is free to believe what they believe. I don’t have the same beliefs as Christians or Muslims, but if you trace back enough we all derive from Abraham. We all come from the same religion essentially. There are different values here and there, but we have the same foundation.
What does faith mean to you?
(answer in comment section)
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