When I was little, I sat down to hear stories about strong women and men. Women whom I always wanted to meet, like Golda Meir and Hannah Senesh, but have only had the privilege of quietly weeping at their grave sites. I was educated about politics. Why the Golan is a great place to have, not only for its wine, but for its military value. My favorite Jewish “pirate,” the man always with an eye patch that I could not remember by name, but I was told was brave and strong… visually impaired like my grandfather; he became another hero in my home. Dayan. Dayan. Dayan. To be Jewish.
Once a year there used to be 25 starving Schiffs gathered around a table. My grandfather would insist on following the rituals as they were to be done. We sang. My grandmother’s voice would be the loudest for “Hallelujah,” but my aunt would race through Zuzim like no one else. I aspired to read and sing with her vigor. To be Jewish
At Hanukkah one year, I was four, I remember telling my dad I was not Jewish anymore. No other kids at school were Jewish. Christmas was much cooler. I quickly converted back to Judaism for a Hello Kitty doll house. I was easily sold. How silly and trivial religious ideology seemed at the age of four. I now would protect the ideology with my life and perpetuate it through my children. To be Jewish.
At 17, my amazing and wonderful grandfather was buried. I laid with him until the shomer came and I was the one to stand over him and cover the pine box in its entirety. No stranger was going to do that mitzvah. I had been forever changed. Shiva lasts but seven short days. To be Jewish.
I have led people through Israel. I have sweated with strangers on the top of Masada. Blowing bubbles where there once was war and pillage. I’ve danced in caves and had my skirt skim earth from the Syrian border to Egypt. To be Jewish.
Many times I have sat with rabbis and had a drink (you pick the poison), discussing Judaism on a local and global level, from assimilation to conversion. Two people, sixteen arguments… and many unanswered questions that linger on my mind.
I challenge Torah, G-d, myself, my community, and for what? Because I’m observant. To be Jewish.
I have been a member of a conservative synagogue, raised in a reform, went to an orthodox rabbi in college whom I’d call to this day with any question. I am all over the map with ideas and love for different perspectives. To be Jewish.
It is not to say that we must match, can fit in a box, or can be defined as a group… we must define ourselves and reflect on those decisions. We will not agree, but we come from the same cloth, no matter the patterns. As we grow in age or in population, it is important that we recognize our differences and embrace every experience. This is what it means to be Jewish.
Rachel Schiff is an English teacher
who graduated from Cal State Fullerton.
She was president of Hillel, a representative of 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.