July 6, 2006
The Making of a Jewish Teen
Four confirmation essays offer a glimpse into the future.
I also have influences from my grandparents, who are big players in their temple. They insist on carrying on the Jewish traditions. My mom pushes the idea of Jewish community and how good it feels to be part of something larger.
Among all of these influences, my dad's beliefs seemed most believable to me. I had seen evidence of the problems that religion had caused in the world and was ready and willing to go without. I didn't see the point of being a part of anything bigger if it could invoke wars.
That is, until I had some chicken.
Chicken, you ask? Why is chicken symbolic of my joining of the Jewish community? The answer begins with the Religious Action Center trip to Washington, D.C. in February 2006.
I had not wanted to go along in the first place, but had been convinced. I walked into the situation firmly believing that there was no fun or learning to be had, and was ready to be stubborn enough to stick to that belief.
My mind was quickly changed the moment I walked into a large dining hall full of laughing, happy people who were all ready to get to know each other. I was enjoying myself even before dinner. The people I met were interesting, and I had a lot in common with them.
Then the food came. It was ... chicken. That's when Rabbi Kenneth Chasen, my rabbi from Leo Baeck Temple, said, "It wouldn't be a Jewish convention without chicken."
Everyone at my table was laughing, including me.
That's when it hit me: I am a Jew. I was eating chicken with people I had immediate connections to, laughing over stereotypes and feeling pride in being part of such a great group. I became a part of the Jewish community that weekend. Whether it was the chicken, the friends, the senators, or the research; I had come to realize the reason for religion in the world.
I no longer view the idea of religion and community as only harmful. I have learned that a community can be the most important thing a person can have. A community is there for support and comfort in times of celebration and in times of need. Everyone -- anywhere in the world -- needs a community.
I am actually surprised to feel how fulfilling it is to tell people that I am a Jew and belong to the Jewish people. Thanks to that piece of white-meat chicken, I now have a community I will be able to rely on my whole life.
Lauren Schein, a junior at Santa Monica High School, was confirmed at Leo Baeck Temple.
I'm Jewish everywhere I go, but it always feels a little different depending on if I'm at my synagogue, at my camp or at my school.
When I'm at synagogue at Congregation Ner Tamid, I don't feel unique. Being Jewish is typical and ordinary. I know everyone, and I simply take it for granted that everyone is here because they're Jewish, and that everyone is Jewish because they're here.
At Camp Hess Kramer, it feels completely different. I know that everyone is Jewish, but I don't know anyone, and at first it's strange. We know all the same prayers, all the same games and all the same rituals. The interesting part for me is that these things have less to do with being Jewish and more to do with being at camp.
It's such a great feeling to be there and know that it is where I belong. People accept me at camp, and sometimes I just stand and ponder the idea that, "Wow, they're all Jewish, every single one of them. I am not the minority, or even the majority, but the entire population! I am the religion!" Being able to say that feels really good.
School is another story, and to be honest, school is where I truly feel proud to be Jewish. I am part of a small minority at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, and I am treated a little differently for it. People see me in some of my classes as "the Jew" or "one of the Jews" and, truthfully, I love it! I am proud when I am at school to be known as "the Jew."
The different ways people see me are mostly based on stereotypes. If someone were to point me out in a crowd to one of his friends and tell him that I am Jewish, the person would very likely assume I was smart, hard working, and fairly wealthy -- and I have absolutely no problem with that assumption. I am proud to be thought of that way because those are valuable and honorable qualities that all people would want to have, and the fact that somebody would simply assume that I have them is quite flattering to me.
The truth is, however, that being Jewish has absolutely nothing to do with those stereotypes. It's about what I believe in and how I view myself. I have come to realize that my parents didn't decide that I would be Jewish; I decided that I would be Jewish, and that I had to want it for myself. It didn't matter how many people wanted it for me as long as I made my choice.
And as I stand here on the night of my confirmation, I think that it is obvious which choice I've made. I have nothing to prove to anyone regarding my religion, my beliefs, my faith, or my Jewish heritage, and I am very proud of who I am.
Mickey Brown, a junior at Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, was confirmed at Congregation Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes.
It was my first time in Israel, and on one of my first evenings there, I went to a Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball game. That night, Maccabi was playing Jerusalem HaPoel for the Israeli basketball championship. This rivalry is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, rivalries in Israeli sports. The stadium was divided; the Tel Aviv fans were standing on one side in yellow, while the Jerusalem fans were standing on the other in red.
All of the sudden, before the game, the arena lights dimmed. I was amazed to see tens of thousands of people stop whatever they were doing -- mostly chanting and cussing at the other side -- to stand united and sing "HaTikvah," the Israeli national anthem. Not only did everyone sing, but they sang with pride and wholeheartedly.
Listening to this once-in-a-lifetime experience, I could feel the love of the Jewish nation in everyone's voices, the love that has kept the hope for Israel alive in the Jewish people for thousands of years and through many difficulties. From this I understood why the Israelis have such extreme national pride and risk so much in order to live in the Jewish homeland.
I had never heard "HaTikvah" sung in public by tens of thousands of people. Being in Israel taught me not to hide my Jewish pride, but to show it in public. After living in Tel Aviv with an Israeli family for two months on the Milken-Lady Davis Israel Exchange Program, my pride in Israel and in Judaism has risen greatly.
I have also never seen fans as passionate as the Maccabi fans in any sports game in America. During the exchange program this spring, I attended every Maccabi game. When I saw that Maccabi was going to the final four in Europe, I was amazed. A team from the small country of Israel was going to Prague to play against teams from Russia and Spain. This shows the world that the Israelis and Jews are strong and can compete in sports, like basketball. When European countries see an Israeli team as one of the best teams in Europe, they must respect Israel and Jews.
Israelis are so proud of Maccabi doing well that more than 10,000 Israelis, including my host family, the Dekels, and I, went to the Euroleague Finals in Prague to cheer them on. Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball was one of the highlights of my stay in Israel. Not only was it fun to go to the games, but it taught me how different the Israeli culture is from American culture, and how to be proud of who I am.
Kevin Senet, a junior at Milken Community High School, was confirmed at Stephen S. Wise Temple.
One night a few months ago, I was talking with two of my closest friends, whom I have known for as long as I can remember. Both of these girls are relatively religious Christians who frequently attend church and have a strong belief in God. Soon our conversation came to the subject of religion.
My friends asked me if I believed in God. I quickly answered that I wasn't sure. Recently, I have asked myself how I could believe in God if I had never had a personal experience in which God spoke directly to me or guided me in some way.
I told them that to be a Jew you didn't have to believe in God. I was certain about this, but I still couldn't explain more. My friends didn't grasp how I could be Jewish and be an active participant in my Jewish community yet not believe in God. They didn't understand what I feel in services when the congregation is praying and singing to God. How is Judaism even a religion, they asked, if you aren't praying to anything?
After thinking about it I came to the realization that most people don't understand this important part of Judaism. Our religion is, of course, based on the monotheistic principle in which people unite to pray to one God, but a bigger part of Judaism, which my Christian friends overlooked, is the moral code, tikkun olam and other mitzvot that our religion promotes.
Of the ethics and values we are taught in Judaism, the most important to me is the learning and discovery integral to our Jewish religion. As we learn about the ideals and history of Judaism, we are better prepared to make educated decisions based on our beliefs about God and life.
After this year in Confirmation class, I feel as though I am more prepared to think about my belief in God. To be honest, I'm still questioning, but being a part of our Jewish community and trying to understand my religion has given me exactly what I wanted.
I know I won't be judged by our community on the basis of faith, and I am always being asked to question my beliefs until I achieve what I consider to be the best understanding possible.
As I have grown as a Jewish woman, I have learned that being a part of Jewish community is what makes me a Jew. The people here are joined together by something great that cannot be explained. While we may not all believe the same things about God and life, we are all in this together.
Natalie Paige Karic, a junior at Harvard-Westlake School, was confirmed at Temple Israel of Hollywood.
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