You cannot choose what you are, but if the spirit can claim any distinction from the body, mine made a choice to be born Jewish. It is in every essence of me, despite my limited knowledge of Hebrew and my tendency to drift from some laws. My identity lies in rooms full of people swaying with ancient sentiments, humming tunes that reverberate in every stained glass synagogue that warms of its own accord. My soul wants to repair the world as much as it wants acoustic guitar and freshly baked challah. My heart dances at the words ‘next year in Jerusalem’ the same as my feet move in a vibrant grapevine with lifted chairs in the middle of a circle.
My culture, my belief, my being was slated for me. My religion is a book club; you should probably read the book, but if you just come for the wine, we’ll still invite you in. When I move to disbelief and question my limits and scream I am, when I walk alone and breathe gray dirt off the city I am, when I think about struggle but also when I think about wonder, I am most certainly Jewish. I am Jewish in how I walk and how I feel; every day I wrestle with G-d, and that makes me Jewish. It is in my thoughts, my hands, my fingertips touching Torah, my shouting out for Tzedek- justice, my voice unwavering, my knees bending out instinctively.
I sing, Jewish. I hurt, Jewish. I remember, Jewish – the collective remembrance we call ‘history.’ With every sense, I know the memories that remain present in my bloodstream and my lips. I remember myself. Remember me, lighting candles in my room alone. Remember me, weeping. Remember me, heart bleeding and breaking, singing one Hebrew phrase, ‘adonai tzuri’ in my head over and over again. I am forced to look it up, finding the meaning to be ‘the Lord is my rock.’ Remember me chanting words I do not understand at my Bat Mitzvah. Remember me loathing the weekly drive to a Sunday School covered in vines, smelling of crayons and grape juice. Remember me as part of my people; unsure and struggling even in my deepest faith, crossing borders, accepting commandments. I am standing at Mount Sinai.
Note: this piece is based off of an essential right to worship, the right not to assimilate, the right to my individual identity, in response to an event on Elon’s campus this year where a swastika was painted on my door.