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Her Story: A Jewish Girl in a Christian World

I was crying in the car to my mom, “I just wish we were Christian.”

She had just picked me up from a friend’s house. A childhood friend had once again teased me about our very obvious cultural and religious differences. To me, it felt like torture because all I wanted was to be like my friends.

In elementary school, where being different is looked down upon by your classmates, I was different. Not because I had a disability or because I was a problem child, but because I was Jewish.

It was common for children to tease me about not celebrating Christmas, or to tell me that I was going to hell because I didn’t accept Jesus as my lord and savior. As a side note, Jews don’t believe in hell, so telling me I’m going to go there is an empty threat. Most of the teasing came from my friends.

For a few years, I wasn’t proud to be Jewish because of the teasing I received in school. However, I always loved that fact that I was Jewish. At home and in temple… I felt normal.

We celebrated Christmas for the first eight years of my life. When my sister was 13 and had her Bat Mitzvah, her Jewish rite of passage into adulthood, she asked if we could stop celebrating the holiday. In the beginning, my parents decided they would celebrate it because my dad was brought up celebrating it. In the end, though, the best decision for our family was to stop celebrating it in favor of Jewish holidays. A common misconception to non-Jews is that Hanukkah holds as much importance for Jews as Christmas holds for Christians. Hanukkah is at the bottom of the list in terms of important holidays —  Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover are at the top of the list.

As I got older, I began to accept my religion more and realized I was happy to be part of such an accepting religion. In junior high, all my friends were jealous of all the Bar and Bat Mitzvah parties my Hebrew school friends and I got to attend, and suddenly being Jewish was the cool religion. What a lot of people don’t realize is we spend an intensive year studying for our rite of passage, and the party is a celebration of becoming an adult, after two very long and very traditional services.

And soon after, all of my friends were dying to go to my upcoming party.

In high school I was extremely open about my religion. Oftentimes I faced issues with teachers because I would miss class on the High Holy days at the beginning of the year and they would try to mark me down for it. Fortunately for me, one of my friends’ dad’s was a vice principle and helped me whenever I had issues with this.

My branch of Judaism, called Reconstructionist, is an extremely open and welcoming religion, something that I find special about the religion. During the 90s at my temple, we had a gay Cantor (singer for prayers) and female Rabbis, when it wasn’t that common. I’m thankful for the liberal/open-minded people I grew up around because it paved the way for me to become just as open-minded.

Though it took me until I was around 12 to fully accept and embrace my religion, I am so thankful I did. I plan to raise my children Jewish, and hope they learn the awesome lessons I did throughout my 11 years in Hebrew school.

People are generally more accepting as they get older, but there are still things I face almost every day that sometimes make it harder to be open-minded and accepting since some people still don’t understand my religion and culture.

The other day one of my roommates wished me a Happy Easter. I said, thanks but I don’t celebrate Easter. Her response was “I know, but still.” Clearly, Easter has nothing to do with my religion.

Similarly, during the holidays I never wish people a “Merry Christmas,” it’s always “Happy Holidays.” When I worked at a coffee shop, customers would get upset with me because I didn’t wish them a “Merry Christmas.” One customer even went as far as to tell me that I should wish them a “Merry Christmas,” and when I replied that I didn’t celebrate the holiday, they still insisted.

One friend recently said she doesn’t date Jewish boys because “they’re cheap.” Rest assured, I called her out on that. I’ve dated guys who used certain personality traits of mine as proof that all Jewish women are the same. At a restaurant I worked at a few years back, one of my managers accused me of making up being Jewish because she thought I wanted a free pass to get a holiday off work. “How long have you been Jewish?” she asked me. I didn’t get the holiday off. I reported her to HR after I quit.

As I was writing this article, I witnessed a classmate making an anti-Semitic joke. He told someon he wished he had been born in Germany in the 1940’s, faked barking orders in German and Heiled (that is, did the Nazi salute). I just about lost it. The girl I was sitting with told me that she knew him and would talk to him because she knows he didn’t mean it. However, in college, we should be smart enough to know that jokes like that don’t make you funny.

These are just a few things I’ve dealt with. I deal with ignorance about my religion on almost a daily basis. Everyone should try to educate themselves on what’s appropriate. I realize there are funny stereotypes about all types of people, but sometimes, they really do hurt. There are plenty of people I face that are open and accepting of who I am and what religion I am, but it’s those that aren’t that leave the scars.

I love my religion and the culture that comes with it. I wouldn’t give it up for anything, and I in no way judge people of other religions. Even though I felt left out for most of my life, it makes Judaism an extremely tight-knit religion. So here’s my plea: As you grow up and begin to expand your mind and have children, please teach them that acceptance of other religions is key in creating happier generations. I plan to raise my children Jewish, but I also plan to teach them about cultural diversity so they grow up embracing all kinds of cultures and religions.

Hi! I'm Juliet. I'm a third year journalism transfer student at Cal Poly!
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