How I Wear My Jewish Pride
5 years ago Archive 0
My name is Koby Lerner and I am from San Diego. I would like to share with you a small piece of my Jewish Journey and a few things I have learned along the way. I have been involved with CTeen for only a year and a half (thanks to the great Rabbi Zevi New and his wife Musy New), and I can say, hands down, that this has been the best year and a half of my life.
Last year, I had the immense privilege of attending the International Shabbaton for the very first time. That 72 hours opened so many doors for me, which I never could have imagined. I met strangers, who I can now call my best friends. I observed certain rituals for the first time, which I now perform as mitzvos. But, my biggest takeaway from the weekend was beyond measure – it was Jewish Pride.
When I saw other Jewish teenagers, like me, who attended public school, running around with tzitzit and a yarmulke, I thought, “This is incredible.” It was something so distant from me, yet I wanted to approach it.
As soon as I returned from Crown Heights, I ordered a pair of CTeen tzitzit. I wore them so proudly with my souvenir CTeen yarmulke. At the time, I was not attending a traditional high school because of health reasons. I was enrolled in an independent study program.
I never imagined that when I returned to my public high school I would be wearing tzitzit and a yarmulke. Neither did my friends or family. Most people, as did I, thought this was just a phase, as my previous interests and hobbies had about a three month shelf life. And they thought they were right when I tucked in my fringes and wore a beanie over my kippah.
The newfound Jewish pride was fading, and I didn’t know why. I wanted so desperately to have the desire I once did to perform basic mitzvot. It was not until last summer, while on CTeen Xtreme, that I figured out what had happened. Being exposed to Yiddishkeit, learning Torah with peers, and performing mitzvot, often in the middle of nowhere, somehow reignited my spark. I realized that I could be Jewish anywhere on the planet. I could do Jewish anywhere on Earth. Have Torah, will travel. Torah was the answer, and learning it was the solution.
I learned how accessible Torah is to all of us. Not only do we have loving Rabbis and Rebbetzins who would do anything to guide us on our Jewish journeys, but at our fingertips we have Chabad.org, which is pretty much Jewish Google.
Now, there are no excuses to not learn Torah. If it is a time issue, then just start by reading the Daily Dose on Chabad.org. You can do it while you’re eating breakfast, except on Shabbat, or on your car ride to school. It will you take less than thirty seconds and will set a strong Jewish foundation for the rest of your day.
After I returned from Cteen Xtreme, which by the way I highly recommend, I began increasing my Torah learning and practicing a higher level of observance. I was so ready to wear a yarmulke and tzitzit in my public high school, but a few days before school started I felt very nervous. “What will people think of me? I’ll be the only one. I’ll be made fun of.”
Doubts kept popping up in my head, so I texted my counselor, Shmuley, with my concerns. He replied instantly and told me to look at some camp photos the night before the first day of school and learn some Torah. He continued, “Then when you wake up daven, learn some more Torah and do 20 jumping jacks.” This advice worked like magic. I was ready to tackle Rancho Bernardo High School – tzitzit and all.
Some days were rough and still are. But when someone who knows nothing about Judaism asks me about the strings hanging out of my shirt or the “Jew hat” on my head, I know I’m needed there. A boy once told me, “All I know about Judaism comes from the show Family Guy.” We had a fabulous discussion about kashrut and stereotypes. He was surprised to find out that not all Jews are rich or cheap or non athletic. I was able to enlighten my 10th grade English class, including my teacher, about the truth of the Holocaust by explaining my own family’s history.
One of the Rebbe’s main objectives was to send emissaries to places where Judaism was distant. We are all emissaries of the Rebbe and must continue to make yiddishkeit accessible and doable for all Jews. We must help the rabbis and rebbetzins who are working 24/7, by reaching those whom they can’t, particularly our fellow classmates. How can we do this? Tell them about this wonderful program called CTeen, invite them to Shabbat dinner, share a word of Torah, and be the lamplighter that would bring great joy to the Rebbe. In closing, if you have learned anything from this article, let it be that Torah is accessible to everyone reading this and no matter where you find yourself, no matter how hard it is, know you are needed, even if it doesn’t feel like it, and you are there for a reason.