Saturday, May 15, 2010

I am Jewish: Eighth Graders reflect, 2010

I teach Eighth Grade at Congregation B'nai Israel; something that I have come to enjoy immensely as I watch teens who are just post-bar and bat mitzvah grapple with expressing themselves and their own sense of Jewish identity.  We spend the year on personal theology and making ritual meaningful, ethics and values applied to our lives and our world and, with the help of a 19 year old emissary from Israel, an exploration of life and culture in Israel in a way that our teens can relate.  In the midst of it all we have a weekend retreat with a theme that focuses on a multitude of ways to live Jewishly and express Jewish values.

At the end of every year, our closing circle ritual consists of reading a few short excerpts from the wonderful book written in memory of murdered journalist, Daniel Pearl, 'I am Jewish.'.  Most of the excerpts we read are written by other teenagers or young adults from all over the world, illustrating the diversity of ways to express Jewish living.  Then each student takes a few minutes to write their own reflection based on what Jewish means to them at this point in their lives.  What is warming and wonderful is to see how they are all able to offer a genuine reflection.  They feel it, and they mean it.  Here are a selection of the reflections from this year's closing circle:

I am Jewish because I was born a Jew.  My parents are Jewish, and so were my mom's ancestors.  Being Jewish is who I am.  I was born Jewish, but it was my choice to be a true Jew.

I am proud to be Jewish.  I love the fact of how I am different from my friends.  I have different holidays and different food, but being Jewish makes me who I am and it will always be a part of me.

I am Jewish - this means that I am a minority which is quite different from everybody else.  This makes me feel special inside.

I am Jewish and I am proud of being Jewish.  The stereotypes may bring one down, but a true Jew will be proud and not let the mean thoughts strip them of their Judaism.

I am a Jew - means that I belong to a community that comes together through hardships and times of happiness and holidays.

I am Jewish.  That means that you follow what you believe and that will bring you to God.  Although this God is the same for everyone, each and every person must find their way through the Torah and find God.

For me, being Jewish means thinking about my Jewishness in everything I do, whether it is writing a paper about religion in school or talking about a famous Jew with my friends.  I love being a Jew and I am proud of my Jewish heritage.

I am Jewish because I go to Hebrew School and Temple.  I am also Jewish because I read from the Torah at my Bat Mitzvah.

To me, being Jewish means that I belong to something.  Not only do I belong to a temple but I also belong to a group of people.

To me, being Jewish is being lucky.  I get to be a part of a people that I share beliefs with, that I go to Temple with, that I want to connect with.  Being Jewish is who I am.

As a Jew, I feel that the religion is not something that is to be used in a way that is stressful.  To me, services should be an enjoyable atmosphere.  I enjoy every aspect of Judaism, such as the freedom to make decisions, and the feelings.  I think that it is crucial that we are able to survive, and be respected.  I follow a Jewish way of thinking every day and that is why Judaism is most important to me.

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