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Just a Jew
“Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad. Barukh shem kvod malkhuto l'olam va-ed”. I utter the words beneath my breath, as I stare at my ceiling. ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Blessed is the name of His Glorious Majesty forever and ever.’ The words were imprinted into my mind from the times I spent at Sunday school; the hours the Rabbi and my teachers spent teaching us Hebrew. The days I spent at my temple shaped me to create the young woman I am today. I was taught modesty, compassion, and care. Though I dreaded waking up at eight every Sunday, I would never regret making it there.
It’s a Friday night. My friends and I decided to hang out at a local gym’s “Kid’s Night Out”. We played on the rope swing, flipped on the trampoline, and hopped off the vault into what seemed like a massive pool of foam cubes. I plopped myself down on a seat next to one of the instructors. He was messing around with a group of kids.
“I can speak two languages,” he joked. “They’re called English and American.” The children around him bursted with laughter.
“Oh! I really can speak two languages. English and Hebrew.” I gleamed with pride. I was excited I got to share a special talent of mine.
“Wow, that’s cool.” The instructor replied. “How’d you learn Hebrew?”
“In Sunday School.” Figuring they didn’t understand, I added, “I’m Jewish.”
The instructor furrowed his eyebrows. “I’m sorry.”
Confusion struck me. “Huh? What, why?”
He gave me a smirk. “You’re going to hell.”
My nine-year-old self didn’t understand. I’m going to hell, because I’m Jewish? No, I’m not. There’s nothing wrong with me. I knew that people were prejudice; I was a smart girl. They had taught us about the Holocaust before, both at school and at my temple. But why was this man telling me I was going to hell? I was just a little girl; I hadn’t done anything wrong.
The owner called all the kids to grab pizza, but I stayed back. I sat on the mats, trying to hold back my tears.
Back in the classroom, I faced racism too. The class full of fourth-graders was all chatting about something or another. The prattle was all so insignificant that I can’t recall it. I do know I went up to a boy and asked, “Matt, why don’t you like me?”
The kid darted his eyes away from me. “I don’t like people who don’t believe in Jesus.”
Stunned, I walked away. What does it matter to him? Who cares if I believe in Jesus or not? It’s my opinion. Back then I tried to convince myself I didn’t care. The boy wasn’t anyone I was particularly interested in. He was hardly a friend, and I didn’t have a crush on him either. It still hurt though: the fact that you got rejected, because of your religion. How could it not?
Five years later, I was sitting in my social studies class. That day we were supposed to be talking about the Korean War.
“A bunch of Jews were killed!” A kid laughed with his group.
“Hey,” my teacher chuckled, “that might be offensive to some people.”
I scoffed to myself. How is that funny? It doesn’t even make sense. “Yeah Alex. I’m Jewish.”
“Oh, Are you really?” He watched me nod my head. His cheeks flushed with red. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything.”
“Jerk!” The kids at his table shouted, hitting his arm. They told him he was mean, even though they were laughing a second ago.
“It’s fine.” I mutter to myself. I considered the kid, Alex, a friend, and I really wasn’t mad at him. I learned to get over the Jew jokes, because there were a lot of them.
Lying in bed, I recalled these memories. “Thank you God”. The story of the gymnastics instructor still brought tears to my eyes, but it wasn’t the insult that hurt. The ache of my nine-year-old self is what stung, but I learned that the instructor was wrong. My religion was nothing to be ashamed of. “You gave me courage,” I whispered. I turned over to my right side, and closed my eyes. “Amen”.