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Gigi Robinson Jewish American Heritage Month essay
Gigi Robinson Jewish American Heritage Month essay
Samantha Sybo

This Jewish American Heritage Month, I’m Focusing On Jewish Joy

In a world that sometimes feels like it’s constantly pushing us to conform or assimilate, embracing my Jewish identity and heritage feels like an act of resilience. Being proud of who you are means honoring the traditions passed down through generations, cherishing the values that define your community, and standing tall in the face of adversity. That’s why, this Jewish American Heritage Month, I’m choosing to focus on Jewish joy.

I came to learn about the importance of Jewish joy firsthand throughout my own experiences with Judaism. I grew up in New York City, the city with the second-largest population of Jews in the world (following Tel Aviv, Israel). I spent my teenage years attending more bat and bar mitzvahs than I can count. I remember feeling empowered through the Jewish community that was built into my world. But as I grew up, internships, school work, and extracurricular commitments took the front seat in my life, and I went away to college feeling lost in my connection to my Judaism.

It wasn’t until my chronic illness flared up significantly during my junior and senior years of college that I sought community with the Chabad at my school, the University of Southern California. I didn’t have energy to explain my illness to anyone, or deal with what people thought I could or couldn’t do. I vividly remember messaging the rebbetzin — the rabbi’s wife — at USC Chabad to see if she would go on a walk with me, just to feel less alone. I was met with an immediate yes, and felt the warmth of spending time with her, the safety to just be, without judgment. I also began attending weekly Shabbat meals with other Jewish (and non-Jewish) students during my time in college, which developed my interest in the community even more.

Gigi Robinson Jewish American Heritage Month essay
Samantha Sybo

All this made me want to dive deeper into my connection and identity of being Jewish in my post-grad years — and I’m so glad I did. Finding joy in my Jewish identity helped me forge meaningful relationships within my community, feel supported during challenging times, and celebrate our shared history and experiences. I know I’m not alone in this, which is why I reached out to other Jewish women to discuss the ways we practice Jewish joy during Jewish American Heritage Month and beyond. 

Embracing Jewish Communities

These days, my favorite thing to do is to spend Shabbat with my friends; we all gather together to cook and eat with many laughs — and sometimes even crying — involved. The sense of belonging and connection that Judaism has given me brings me endless joy. Lifestyle influencer and speaker Carly Weinstein agrees. “There is just nothing like meeting another Jew or even walking into another Jewish home,” she tells me. “It feels warm and familiar — you can meet a Jew from across the world and somehow still have this overall level of understanding. There is a bond with fellow Jews that just cannot be replicated.”  

You can’t talk about Jewish communities without bringing up Jewish geography. (ICYMI, Jewish geography is a game frequently played by Jews when we meet someone new, essentially asking questions about friends, relatives, and colleagues to feel more connected to one another.) I experienced this myself when connecting the dots with my friend; it turns out, her dad knew my boyfriend’s mom back in the day, even though I had no connection to meeting my boyfriend through this friend. It’s not just a fun game, but also a reminder of the connections Jews share with one another.

Wearing Jewish Jewelry

For many Jewish women, wearing jewelry is another way to express our Jewish joy, through symbols of faith, cultural identity, and personal spirituality. For example, I proudly wear a custom necklace with my name, my grandmother’s gemstones, and a Star of David, the universally recognized symbol of Judaism that represents divine protection and connection to Jewish heritage. 

Gigi Robinson Jewish American Heritage Month essay
Gigi Robinson

Arielle Berlinsky, a LinkedIn influencer in the social media space, tells me wearing her Star of David represents many things for her. “It’s a way to carry my ancestors with me wherever I go,” she says. “I wear [it] unapologetically, to proudly show my Judaism in a way some of my ancestors could not. We are a people who are survivors filled with resilience, and we honor that in all that we do, from holidays to daily practices. They lost their lives over it, and I get the privilege to wear it while continuing our heritage and traditions.” 

Danielle Farage, a 25-year-old Linkedin influencer, echoes this sentiment. “When I wear any Jewish symbol, it represents the resilience of the Jewish people,” she says. “It means that, no matter where our families spent time — whether in Iraq, Poland, Russia, Brazil, et cetera — that we are still unified as one. When I see others wearing their preferred symbols, it fills me with pride and gives us an unspoken bond that is eternal.”  

Another popular Jewish symbol worn on jewelry is the Chai, which means “life” in Hebrew and embodies the Jewish value of cherishing and celebrating life. As women’s health advocate Sophie Slutsky puts it, “It’s a way for me to be visibly Jewish and to proudly take up space as a Jewish woman.” 

By wearing these symbols, Jewish women not only honor their religious traditions, but also visibly assert their belonging to the Jewish community, promoting a sense of solidarity and pride in their cultural and religious identity. Although people around the world have different relationships with being Jewish, I love that we can all connect through something as simple as a piece of jewelry. 

Honoring Jewish Traditions

For many, Jewish joy lies in the traditions. “My favorite thing about being Jewish is how the religion brings me closer to my family,” Dani Zvulin, a viral content creator, says. “Our religion allows us to come together for many occasions, including Shabbat, holidays, and cooking traditional Jewish foods.”

These traditions can also help us feel close to those we’ve never even met. “Jewish joy to me means … being able to share my customs and traditions with other Jewish people regardless of different levels [of Judaism] or different customs, and knowing that we are all brothers and sisters,” singer-songwriter Monica Leah tells me. 

Jewish American Heritage Month is not only a time to celebrate the accomplishments of Jewish Americans, but also a reminder of the diversity within the Jewish community itself. Jews come from all walks of life, with different backgrounds, beliefs, and practices that enrich our communities and strengthen our collective identity as American Jews. This time of year serves as a fantastic reminder that Jews in the diaspora can have vastly different experiences, culturally and within their faith, but we can all feel the same Jewish joy.

Gigi (she/her) is a full-time public speaker, content creator, author, and advocate for people facing mental health, body image, and chronic illness challenges. Through her company, Its Gigi LLC, she offers private coaching, digital products, and social media guidance, focusing on personal branding and creator economy trends. She recently launched Hosts of Influence, teaching creators without a public presence how to build a sustainable brand. She is the author of A Kids Book About Chronic Illness, and is currently working on her next big project! Gigi's advocacy for chronic illness stems from her personal experience with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome since age 11. In 2022, she made history as the first woman with chronic illness to pose for Sports Illustrated, advocating openly. Her work has brought her to the White House, the United Nations, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and more. Some of her past clients include Meta, Spotify, TikTok, Tinder, Amazon, and more. (Headshot photo credit: Samantha Sybo)