This I Believe
5 years ago Leighest 0
By Victoria Lamport, Tampa Fl
By being Jewish in a predominately Christian society, I often face challenges. However, when I am in Israel, everything feels so normal: different cultures and religions all blend into one great land. Not until attending a nondenominational high school did I face the reality that in Tampa, Florida I am very much in the minority. I am lucky enough to both have had a mother born in Israel and the opportunity to spend my summers in Israel. This I believe strengthened my own beliefs and customs and ignited a curiosity and respect for other’s beliefs and customs.
“Why can’t you eat this?” my friends ask. I explain: “I am Jewish, therefore I keep kosher”. Some nod their head and continue with their meals, others ask what “keeping kosher” means so I try and explain in the simplest way I can. The first time I had to explain to someone that kosher does not mean that a rabbi blessed the food, I realized that most of the non-Jewish people I know have a very limited understanding of Jewish customs. Although my friends do not fully understand why I am not also eating a hamburger from a non-kosher McDonald’s, they are usually respectful. Sometimes I am asked why I don’t “just try bacon once”, which made me realize: not only can I not eat it, I do not want to eat it. Often at school when students ask me about my religion they are concerned that they are offending me. I have never understood that. What is offending about someone being curious about my religion? We are all curious. I love learning about other religions and cultures, because it helps me better understand people and what they believe. Although they are all different, most monotheistic religions share similar morals and values, exemplifying that we are not as different as some believe and further connecting us all. Some people do not have an interest in learning about other peoples, but I am glad that I choose not to be ignorant and learn as much from others as I can.
I am not, however, saying that it would not have been easier to be in an environment where the majority of people are like you. If I said that, I would be lying. I love going to New York and Israel; There is a comfort and ease in places that understand your background. When I meet someone who shares my religion and culture, I often feel that I have a special connection with them. We share something that is such a huge part of our lives and are able to practice together and learn from each other. Every summer that I go to Israel I get motivated and inspired to learn more about Judaism and become more involved with my community when I return home. In Tampa, I would be looked at oddly if I wore long sleeves and a long skirt in the summer, but in Israel it’s normal, as people of different faiths and orthodoxy dress differently. In Tampa, my friends do not understand why I have to have dinner with my family and can not hang out on Fridays, but in Israel I can have dinner with my family, hang out with friends, and keep Shabbat all at the same time. I feel so lucky that I have a time once a year to reconnect with my faith and Neshama, Hebrew for soul.
However, I do not live in Israel, and here I need to make an effort to remain connected to my religion. I therefore have become very active and taken leadership positions in different Jewish youth groups. These youth groups have enabled me to meet other Jewish teens from all over who are just like me. Although we may not live near each other or even speak the same language we have a special connection that is almost indescribable. Some of my closest friends that I talk to every day are from these youth groups. While I appreciate and enjoy living in a mixed culture and going to a school with people from various and interesting backgrounds, I feel that my religion grounds me and helps me define my own unique identity.