The easiest way to say it is, I believe in religious pride. My belief did not begin when I was young, nor was it something that was easily learned. It was fully realized, only two days ago.
Growing up as a Jewish girl, in a predominantly Christian community, is not the easiest thing to do. As a little girl, I never really understood the difference between Christianity and Judaism, but the distinction became apparent when I went to middle school and all the girls new each other from bible study and church. I felt a sense of alienation from most of the girls, as well as a feeling of confusion. Although my close group of friends were Jewish, I always longed for a feeling of acceptance from the rest of the “cool girls”. Why couldn’t I be Christian? Why did I have to be left out of the popular group just because I was Jewish? It wasn’t just the feeling of being left out, but when guys began to tell me that they couldn’t date me because I was Jewish, I thought life would never get better.
It wasn’t until 9th grade when life was starting to improve. An organization called the B’nai Brit Youth Organization was an international group of Jewish teenagers from all over the world. The Cotton States Region of BBYO included Tennessee, Alabama, and Louisiana. Through regional and chapter programs, I finally started to realize how amazing being Jewish was and that there were so many other Jewish teenagers, just like me.
Another regional program was approaching called Fall Kallah that focused around Jewish Heritage. Although I had only been to one Fall Kallah before, I wanted to go just to be with my friends from the region, not thinking I was going to get anything out of it. What I didn’t know was that I was in for the most life-changing weekend of my life.
The International president was there, and she supposedly had an amazing program for everyone. As we all waited outside of the room where the program was to be held, she came outside and told us to get in a single file line, and not to say a word when we walked in. So, following her orders, all 120 of the Jewish teenagers walked into the dark room, in a silent, single file line. The only light was a small circle of candles in the middle of the room, with one of my guy friends standing in the middle. After we were all situated, he began to talk. “It is the year 2130, and I was the last Jew alive,” he said, “I am in the Smithsonian Museum.” As he started talking about why he was the last Jew alive, I began to realize that it is not completely impossible. With chills all over my body, I listened as he asked intense questions like, “If someone was holding a gun to your head and asked if you were Jewish, would you say yes or no?” and “Do you think it is impossible for Jewish people to become extinct?”
As these questions were boggling my mind, the president went to the circle and told all of us to write on a piece of paper why we were proud of being Jewish. While we were writing, she began telling stories of the great Baal Shem Tov trying to find his soul mate, and a man who owned an orphanage and how he had to walk his children down to the gas chambers. Tears running down my face, the president began to tell a true story that would change my life forever.
The story began with a group of Jews forced into a gas chamber by the German soldiers. It was an entire community forced in, with the Rabbi in the middle of everyone. In a time of such despair, the Rabbi began to hum and sing, as if he was happy. A woman, in disbelief, began yelling at the Rabbi and asking why he could be so happy when they were all going to die, but the Rabbi did not answer and kept singing louder and louder with each verse. The soldiers outside did not understand why people were so happy, when they knew they were going to die. One soldier told his men to let the Jews out because they were happy that they could die so they could escape the torture and hard work. With these orders, the soldiers let everyone out and forced everyone to work. Two days later, the concentration camp was liberated.
We were told to stand up and walk in a single file line down to the camp fire, and hum the tune the Rabbi hummed as loud as we could to show we were proud to be Jewish. As I listened to my fellow peers and I humming as loud as our lungs would let us, I was filled with an immense feeling of joy and pride of being Jewish. For once in my life, I would take being Jewish over anything else in the world. I will forever remember this life-changing weekend, and will never again think twice about being ashamed of my religion. I believe in religious pride.
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