Growing up confused – by guest blogger Samantha Star
Recently, I had the privilege of entering several dozen Birthright applications into the registration database. After doing what felt like a million (or maybe it was only 50), I realized that a lot of these applications had similarities: Hebrew schooling, summer camps, involvement with synagogues, etc. I sat there wondering what my application must have looked like three years earlier, when I applied to be a participant on Birthright, and what it would look like today.
I grew up in a household that I now consider very confusing. My father was raised by his mother and grandparents in an orthodox home and my mother converted from Christianity, never fully grasping what it meant to be Jewish. Some of my fondest childhood memories were of bacon and eggs, waking up on Christmas morning to gifts under the tree, searching for Easter eggs… you get the idea. However, when I went to school and started Moral and Religious education classes I would ask my mother, “what religion am I?” and she would say “You’re Jewish. If anyone asks, say you’re Jewish.”
When I would say, “I’m Jewish”, curious students couldn’t help but ask questions; questions that I couldn’t answer. “Why do you eat pork? What is matzah? Why do you celebrate Christmas?” As a shy 12 year old, I sat there stunned, wondering, “Yeah, why?!”
For years, I tried to simply fit in, and get by. When asked about my religion I’d say, “Well, I’m technically Jewish, but we don’t really celebrate anything.” And, for a long time, that was the truth.
Fast forward nearly a decade to when I became a young 20-something living on my own. That’s when I met my future husband, who also happened to be Jewish. It wasn’t something I was consciously looking for, but I think my subconscious knew it was something that I wanted. He was the first key to unlocking my Jewish identity.
The second part came in 2008, when I went on Birthright as a participant, my first trip to Israel. The leaders on my trip were fantastic. They answered all my questions without being surprised by my lack of knowledge, and they were extremely patient with me, the participant who wanted to know everything.
Now, during the holidays, I light the Chanukiah that my husband and I bought in Jerusalem on our honeymoon. The Easter Bunny has been replaced by matzah during Passover, and my questions have been replaced by pride in my faith.
So, although the deadline to apply for summer trips has passed, I would encourage you all to apply for Birthright in the future. My data entering has taught me that there is no “typical” type of person who goes on Birthright. If you think you know everything, there is always more to learn. If you think you know nothing, then this might be just what you need.