September 2, 2004
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
As I leave the world of Jewish Day schools and begin college, I journey like Dorothy into the mysterious Land of Oz.
Wearing cropped jeans (instead of a blue-checkered dress), I anxiously follow the yellow brick road (or Interstate 5) to Stanford University.
Halfway there, a melancholy sensation of homesickness overwhelms me, and I think of my prior extraordinary 14 years of Jewish day school education. Soon, there will be no more all-school holiday celebrations, no more faculty dressing up on Purim and no more crooning Hebrew melodies down the noisy halls.
My prior Temple Emanuel Community Day School and Milken Community High School 100 percent Jewish population is about to dwindle to a dismal 12 percent.
I begin to panic and search frantically through my suitcase for my red shoes. After sloppily tying them onto my feet, I desperately cry, "There's no place like home, there's no place like home."
Yet, when I open my eyes, I am still on the yellow brick road and it is time for me to wake up and smell the coffee. It is time to glide (or ineptly stumble) into the secular world as a college freshman.
Indeed, like Dorothy from the "Wizard of Oz," I am a young adult on a quest to find her inner soul and place in life. Dorothy transitions from childhood to adulthood, and travels to Oz only to fathom that everything she wanted was in her home, in her own backyard.
For me, my beloved home is Judaism, and my family constantly reminds me not to fret. I can hold on to my Jewish heritage, whether it be in Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Kansas or even Oz.
Take one instance: I was sitting at Starbucks in Westwood last week, sipping my Frappuccino and perusing the Los Angeles Times, when a handsome UCLA student approached me, and asked if he could join me at my table. Our conversation was delightful until he took me by surprise and bluntly inquired, "I saw you in the window and thought you were beautiful. Do you have a boyfriend?"
I stared at his shiny cross and gulped.
"Yes, I do," I staggered.
Sure, it was a bubbemeise, as my mother would say, but how could I have told him the truth? I later chuckled, imagining his response to: "Sorry, but my family says that 'those you date you mate,' and I need to raise my kids Jewish." Or, what if I had given him a quick lecture on how being Jewish is so important to me? All I can say is "oy."
Yet, now I was confident that even though it would not be easy, I could emerge safely from my cozy and protective Jewish day school bubble while retaining my identity.
Furthermore, besides the dating factor, my Jewish education had prepared me to confront anti-Semitism. The Middle East seminar that Milken implemented this past year imparted onto me the tools to ward off any evil witch (or anti-Semite) that I might encounter.
My lessons of Talmud had infused me with the Tin Man's much-desired heart, my social science and humanities instructors had imbued me with the Lion's admirable courage, and from my mathematics teachers I had gained the Scarecrow's sought-after brain.
Thus, as the summer days begin to shorten, and the cool Los Angeles air gently reminds me that on Yom Kippur I will be davening for the first time away from home at Hillel, I feel prepared for my future identity as a worldly maidelah.
Who knows? In a month, I might be staying up late at night with a Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim or atheist roommate, comparing our theological takes on the universe (while munching on a midnight snack). I will be elated to take part in that dialogue, to learn about other religions and cultures, and to share mine.
Will I ever reflect on my prior days at a Jewish day school?
When my grandmother called me at my summer job a couple of days ago, the young Latina secretary politely inquired, "May I ask who is calling?"
"Her Bubbe," my grandmother replied.
A few seconds later I picked up the telephone and the befuddled secretary informed me, "Someone by the name of Herbubbe is on the phone for you."
Now, that, I was certain, would have never happened at Milken.
Stanford freshman Michele Goldman is a writer and pianist.