Jumping into Judaism

Skyye D'Allyn

As a person with Jewish heritage, I wish that the extent of my knowledge of Judaism didn’t come from watching the first half hour of Passover at Bubbe’s 3 years ago.

I’m also quite possibly the only Jewish person to never have eaten a Latke. I’ve never really felt connected to my Jewish heritage, as I don’t really believe in God and my grandparents stopped practicing Judaism when my mom was born. Although my family never celebrated Hanukkah, I’ve always wondered about the sense of community that would come with it. I also thought it might be important to learn about the traditions that Jewish people have fought to keep alive. Since it is the Hanukkah season, I set out to learn a little bit more about my heritage.

My knowledge of everything Menorah related was quite limited…

Something that I had always been interested in learning about was how to light a menorah. I thought it was something that would be easy to learn, but is also an integral part of Jewish culture. Going into my meeting with a mentor (who would teach me how to light a menorah), I wasn’t sure what to expect. My knowledge on everything menorah related was quite limited, as I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a menorah shown in the media.

After learning with my mentor, I was pleasantly surprised. Lighting the menorah was simple, and could definitely be something that I practiced in the future. As my mentor read the Hanukkah blessing to me, I realized just how beautiful this tradition is. Even something as simple as learning to light a menorah has left me yearning to learn more about Judaism.

Although I was really interested in learning about Hanukkah, the people around me weren’t. I asked my family if they would want to celebrate Hanukkah this year, and although they agreed, they weren’t very enthusiastic. On the first night of Hanukkah, I realized that my family hadn’t given any effort to get a menorah, or other items important to the celebration. To them, learning about and celebrating our traditions was not very important, which is okay, but I was still very disappointed. I thought the whole situation was very ironic as I wanted to learn about Hanukkah to stop the erasure of the traditions, but it seemed that in my family at least, the erasure was already complete.

I thought since this was proving to be harder than anticipated, it would be helpful to speak to someone who was going through the same experience as me. Coincidentally, a friend of mine, Eliza Strong had recently decided to connect with her Jewish heritage. Before the Holocaust, her great-grandpa, who was an Ashkenazi Jew, changed his name to hide his Jewish heritage. They raised their daughter Catholic. Strong explained, “finding out that I was Jewish made me think about how much I want to carry on those stories. The Nazi party worked so hard to make those stories and traditions go away, and they were successful in so many cases. It was super important to me to find out about what kept them going.” Strong has also been working with kids on Sundays at Temple Emek Shalom. “Everyone is super nice to each other, and the kids are super sweet and dedicated to it.” Strong quoted a man at the synagogue who told her something that stuck with her. He said, “Judaism is like a box that’s super heavy, super hard to open. But once you open it there’s a bunch of super beautiful stuff inside.” Strong’s story inspired me to try to follow in her footsteps, and not let my culture become erased, especially with the recent attacks from anti-sematic terrorists.

Learning about a small part of my culture and joining others in a similar situation has been essential to me. The mass erasure of people like me and our traditions make me think that it is very important to keep Jewish history alive by passing on traditions, as many people have tried to smother the flame. I think that in the future I will try harder to celebrate Hanukkah, to really get a taste of Judaism, and hopefully continue to become more involved.