Discovering my own Jewish identity – by guest blogger Jordan Biberkraut
Over the course of my life, I’ve gone to Jewish elementary and high schools, went to a Jewish sleep-away camp, had a Bar Mitzvah, and have been involved in many different aspects of the Jewish community. After leaving my “Jewish circle” and embarking onto bigger stages in my life, like CEGEP and university, I’m left to question how I see myself as a Jew and what role I now play in the Jewish community. Over the past few months, I have reconnected with some of my Jewish roots through the Madrichim in Training (MIT) program at the Birthright Israel Experience Center (BIEC). This program has allowed me to develop a new appreciation for what makes me Jewish. It has given me new meaning to my actions and has helped me focus on how I interact with different people, and how engaged I am in providing a source for people to discover their own Jewish identity.
Through different programs and learning sessions, we’ve touched upon some very important points that have helped to nurture the way I feel now. From learning about Israel advocacy to a public speaking seminar and from Holocaust education to organized social events, I can now see the real impact I have on the community. I have come to realize that if it wasn’t for the efforts made by our young professionals, this community will cease to exist. Each month and each session I have developed a stronger passion for what we do.
One of these sessions in particular had an incredible impact on me, and my Jewish identity. One of our sessions was on Holocaust education, a topic which can be very meaningful to a lot of people in my generation because of the immediate connection we have to family members who survived the atrocities in Europe. It just so happens that this session was organized on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. That night, the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre was hosting an evening with two French actors, who read through letters dating from before and during the World War II. As the evening started, we heard letter after letter being read by the actors as we slowly made our way through the memorial. Although the letters were moving, it is often easy to take a step back from the situation and not to get too attached while still listening. Half way the stories, through, it suddenly hit me.
Standing there I began to hear the names of my own family members being read off a letter, a letter which I knew nothing about. It was one of the biggest shocks of my life. Everything suddenly slowed down, and I couldn’t help but cry. My grandfather is still alive, and in his 91st year. In that moment, it put everything that happened to him into perspective, and it took an emotional toll on me. The letter not only impacted me, but I feel like it created a connection between myself and the other participants in our group. The importance and value from Holocaust education is always there, but I think it is important for people to be part of it; to feel part of the history and to understand it. Fortunately and unfortunately, emotion plays a part in determining that.
There were so many factors that evening that helped to create that amazing moment. Call it luck or fate, but we were onto something. Between the date of the event, the memorial evening taking place in the same building as our session, and the letters of a family member being read, they all came together and played an important role in defining my Jewish identity on that particular day. I cannot say for certain that this event truly defined who I am, nor do I wish to imply that we all need events like this in our life to shape our Jewish identity. What I took from this moment was the steps that brought me here.
We cannot take for granted our community and what surrounds it. Take an active role in your life and see what change you can make. Start small or start big, but do something to help. To repeat again:
If it was not for now and not for the efforts made by us today, this community will cease to exist.