Written by Chloe Shrager
My mother is Christian, but my parents decided to raise me and my two older siblings Jewish. I’ve always known that I am Jewish, and I’ve always been proud of it. However, I never truly took the mental energy to learn what being Jewish meant to myself until my Bat Mitzvah in seventh grade, when I went to Israel for the first time for an intimate opportunity. After that experience, I began searching for ways to expand my religious identity. In eighth grade, I started gaining more exposure to Judaism through BBYO, but I still lacked a true understanding of why my religion should be of importance to me. Starting freshman year, the effects of partaking in a strong Jewish community of teens just like me began to rub off . I found a revitalized pride in my identity; I began meditating to explore the Kabbalistic denomination of Judaism, and let me just say, all the cheesy, Palo-Alto-vegan-chia-seed-soul-cycle-mantra stuff they tell you about leading a mindful lifestyle—it’s all true.
As I continued through high school, I became more motivated to explore and deepen my relationships with others, listen and learn from those I disagree with and reflect on how to infuse the Jewish values of genuine trust, resilience and constant support into my life. I cannot count the number of perspective-shifting conversations I’ve had about Judaic beliefs, or the amount of people I immediately connect with upon hearing “Are you Jewish? Yo, me too, that’s awesome.” In my 17 years of living, Judaism is one of the few life concepts I’ve stumbled upon that is based entirely on love: the central prayer, a mantra of appreciation towards God and the world around you, is immediately followed by the V’ahavta, an indescribably beautiful melody that directly translates to “and you shall love.” You shall love your neighbor, you shall love your enemies, you shall love yourself and you shall extend a loving hand to them all. This foundation for love that Judaism is based upon has given me an immediate and undeniable connection with hundreds of people who otherwise would be strangers to me. Being Jewish assigns you a duty to project compassion to everyone around you, as far as you can possibly reach. Judaism has opened my perspective on so many things and brought out the parts of myself that I am most proud of. The person I am today is deeply rooted in my Judaic identity. My Judaic identity has connected me to a beautiful community that built me a home in the chaos of being a teenager.