Growing up in a predominantly Jewish community, I took my Jewishness for granted. I never felt any reason to question or be ashamed of my identity. That is until I got to university. During my freshman year, I not only struggled with intense anxiety and depression, but I also realized how much the non-Jewish world questioned and condemned my Jewish identity. I began to unconsciously place my Hebrew-engraved necklace underneath my shirt.
My identity as a Jewish woman was continuously questioned on campus, often leaving me afraid to speak up in class discussions in an attempt to hide my identity while isolating myself from others. This, coupled with a dark period of depression and anxiety, led me to feel stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts and poor coping strategies. As the combination of exposure to antisemitic rallies and posters, and my struggle with my mental health grew more intense, I became increasingly invested in my identity as a Jew. In gaining an understanding of all those who came before me, I slowly built a greater appreciation for Jewish culture, Jewish history, and my own family’s role in that history.
When my peers and anonymous others chose to attack me online for being Jewish, my identity took the forefront. Unfortunately for them, I only became more vocal about my Judaism and began to wear it with pride like I never have before. Whether it be in class discussions, academic papers or my social media pages, I no longer feel shame in outwardly displaying my identity.
Even though I have become far more comfortable with my Jewish identity, both internally and externally, I still question my history, my culture, and my faith. Jewish identity is so rich and complex that it often requires us to question our heritage in order to uncover more about it. I don’t have much extended family, so I spent childhood holidays with Sephardic family friends, despite being Ashkenazi myself. Thus, much of the Jewish identity I held as a child was based on traditions, songs, and culture distinct from my ancestors’.
This isn’t to say that Ashkenazi culture hasn’t had an influence on my Judaism. Rather, being subject to the beautiful sub-cultures within Judaism has enlightened me in ways beyond imaging. I am Ashkenazi in blood, but Sephardic in soul. My honorary aunts who helped shape my identity have not only provided me with delicious Sephardic food but have also instilled in me what it means to be a proud Jewish woman. I would not be who I am today without them.
Our vibrant culture spans thousands of years. No matter where in the world we come from, we are one nation, one people. The deep connection the Jewish community has with one another has proven each diverse set of traditions is as beautiful as the next. It is a miracle that so many diasporic identities have survived for so long; to see them converge is heartwarming. By learning and honoring our past, we can create a brighter future before we pass it onto the next generations.
I have learned to embrace the changing face of my Judaism. Our ever-evolving culture is what makes it so beautiful and has allowed it to survive for centuries. I may not have all the answers yet, but that’s what makes this journey so exciting. And I am proud to say I no longer tuck my necklace under my shirt; it is simultaneously a symbol of who I am, where I come from, and where I hope to go.