Julia is a 17-year old junior from New York City. She swims, plays the violin and loves spending time with her English bulldog Louie.
I am Jewish. Why? Because my parents are. There was no distinct moment where they whispered it in my ear; it was one of those things I knew growing up. It was why my cousins all had bar and batmitzvahs; why I got to spend a night at a fancy hotel with my cousin running around the halls in inflatable shoes. It was why I went to synagogue on high holidays, sitting amongst the Jews who recited prayers without even glancing down at the book, playing a tile game in the basement with the younger kids to pass the time. It was why I went to Hebrew School, learning the Hebrew alphabet until it was second nature but struggling to actually understand any words. It was never a choice I had, it was just the way I was and I never questioned it.
But the trouble with being Jewish, is just that; being it isn’t enough. There is more to Jews than saying you are one; you have to act like it too. Like not eating pig products or shellfish, like not watching TV Saturday mornings, like wearing long skirts. My family isn’t orthodox, but my brother and I still felt a sort of responsibility to be good Jews. There came a point in my life, probably when I started to prep for my batmitzvah, that I came to hate the responsibility that was attached to my religious faith. It meant extra work, and hard work at that, and it just didn’t seem worth it to me. I had never found Judaism, it had just been handed to me and it didn’t seem fair. Why did I have to work hard at something I wasn’t even sure I believed in?
The minute my batmitzvah was over, I dropped back. I stopped learning and thinking and following Jewish rules. I had had enough. But after only a few years, I started to miss it. I missed belonging to something bigger than myself, something that ran deep within the blood of my family. I missed following rules that had purpose that I could feel even if I couldn’t logically understand it. I was so glad that my parents had not given up on me and I was welcomed back to my culture as if I had never left. Because, I had always had a place there. It was a part of who I was at my core.
So, parents, don’t let resistance persuade you. The greatest thing my parents did for me was push me to do what I didn’t want to do. They forced me to make hard decisions about what I believed and didn’t believe and the type of person I wanted to become. And making those decisions, even if they were subject to change, helped me figure out what I wanted to do and the best ways to go about doing it. I am a better Jew now, because my parents pushed me to understand what it meant to be a Jew before deciding if it was what I really wanted to be. And even more than that, they welcomed me back with open arms. I felt both supported and informed. If your children push against your religious values, push them to fully understand everything they possibly can before making their decision. Even if it is hard, even if they hate you for it. But, ultimately, support them in whatever decision they make. Whether you agree or not, whether it changes daily, yearly, or never. While religious faith may waver, family ties are permanent and can never be replaced.