Sometimes, when I laugh really hard, I fart. I got my first kiss at summer music sleep-away camp. After the kiss, I waited until the guy left for his cabin and I called my grandma from a pay phone and told her everything at midnight because I was so excited. When I was in kindergarten, I forgot my toy for “Show and Tell.” Well, I outsmarted the system and decided to focus on the word “tell”: I described what my mom looked like naked in the shower. I have an irrational yearning to meet Ben Stein, and sometimes when I meet new people, I blurt out random uncomfortable topics because I have no clue what to say. Why am I telling you this? Because I am trying to make a huge point (or embarrass myself and my family): we are all awkward human beings who have awkward moments in life.
Why is this important to understand? Simply because when we realize that all individuals come with their own ball of wax, it is easier to understand that they are still a part of our Jewish community. When I was little, I had a hard time feeling welcome by the Jewish kids at the synagogues my parents schlepped me. It was clear I was never a “cool” kid. When I moved to Orange County, it was a challenge. I was a new kid once again. However, being a bit more comfortable with myself, I found it easier to make a few more friends. These friends welcomed me, a very Jewish concept.
My issue is that there are still people who do not feel connected, who might be unaffiliated, or who are slightly awkward. The reality is, we are all vulnerable at times. It is within our power to make others feel comfortable when we know they are experiencing these pesky moments. Many of us are focusing on ways to grow Jewishly. I am challenging myself as well as others around me to acknowledge those of us who are different and extending an olive branch as a good faith effort to strengthen community ties and bring in new faces to community events.
This is a reminder for all of us. As a community, we are a strong unit. No part of us is too small, too awkward to be welcomed. OC’s Jewish community cannot afford for us to feel divided or estranged. Community-building is something we can all work on, and embracing our awkwardness and our neighbors’ may be a productive way of making new Jewish connections. If you or someone you know would like to become a part of the Jewish Gen Y community in OC, please contact Jewish Federation & Family Services: NextGen, JewGlue, and Shalom Baby; Jewish Community Center’s JYA; and Moishe House of Orange County.
Rachel Schiff is an English teacher who graduated from Cal State Fullerton. She was president of Hillel, a representative of the World Union of Jewish Students and a YLD intern. Currently, she is a Master’s degree student in American Studies with emphasis on Jews in America.