Jew-ish | Teen Ink


November 15, 2021
By amanda1414 BRONZE, Marlton, New Jersey
amanda1414 BRONZE, Marlton, New Jersey
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

As a Jewish teenager living in a primarily non-Jewish town, I get asked some weird questions. Most of the time, these questions make the person asking them come off as uneducated and a bit tone deaf. However, no matter how stupid I may think a question is, I have found that I am unable to confidently answer. Why can’t I, a seemingly well educated person on the topic of Judaism, answer what appears as a basic question about my religion?

What does it mean to be Jewish? In all honesty, I do not know. When I think of Judaism, I think of the hours upon hours I spent going to Hebrew School as a child, yet I cannot seem to retain one piece of information that would explain the fundamentals of the religion. Nevertheless, I have continued to identify as Jewish, celebrate the holidays, go to services, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. 

So why do I continue to practice something I don’t truly understand? Religion is all about having a firm belief that something is true. Mine is anything but. This large gap in my Jewish education has baffled me for years. Was it a deficiency in the teaching style of my Hebrew School teachers? Was it my own fault; a result of me not paying attention to my lessons? I wonder if my disconnection to the religion stems from true disbelief, or just a lack of knowledge.

I won’t say I haven’t tried to truly learn Judaism. As I completed my Bat Mitzvah in seventh grade, I delved the deepest I ever had into the meaning of the texts I read and the songs I sang. I reflected and I contemplated. Through it all, though, there was a little voice in the back of my head saying, “Do you even really believe this?” Truth be told, four years later, that voice is still there.

After my Bat Mitzvah, I am not ashamed to say I lost touch with Judaism more than I had before. I go to services once or twice a year; I don’t make any effort to be involved in my synagogue. However, whenever the opportunity arises, I will happily talk about being Jewish. It’s a topic of conversation. It’s a similarity to someone else. “Oh, your ancestors were religiously persecuted too? No way!” It’s something to stand for. I am an active advocate against antisemitism. I am proud to be Jewish. I am proud to be part of that community. Whether or not the religious side resonates with me, at the end of the day, I am Jewish by heritage. Different from other religions, I could change my beliefs all I want, convert back and forth and back and forth, and I would still be Jewish. I would share the same biological characteristics with other Jewish people, and there is nothing I can do to change that. And I like that. I like having something to identify with. 

Since birth, I’ve had the following beliefs instilled in me by my parents, although probably unintentionally: We are Jewish. We go to services. We sing the songs. We stand when we are supposed to stand. We bow when we are supposed to bow. We can read Hebrew fluently, but not understand a word of it. When you turn thirteen, go read some Torah and become a Jewish woman. After that, it does not matter. Go be an uninvolved member of the community, Jew-ish, but not Jewish. 

I don’t consider myself to be “fully” Jewish. Jew-ish. In my daily life, I don’t even think about religion. I don’t pray. I don’t think about God. I don’t even know if I believe in God. But the second someone mentions Judaism, I become a full fledged child of the Torah. I can engage in any conversation related to my religion, because after all, that’s what I am, right? I have a sort of duty, being Jewish in my town. I don’t face any discrimination, it’s more of a blatant absence of knowledge that surrounds me. Sometimes, I feel like a spectacle to others when I mention my religion. “You’re Jewish? Really? Did you have a Bat Mitzvah?”

Nevertheless, I don’t feel like I can truly call myself Jewish. At the base, I am technically a Jew. There is no reason for me not to be. But can I really call myself something that I don’t know if I believe in? At this point in my life, there is no reason for me to have a definitive decision of what I believe and why I believe it. I have my whole life to figure that out, and even if I don’t, it’s not the end of the world. Jew-ish. It’s not a bad thing to be.

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