Teen Talk: Adina Samloff
7 months ago Leighest 0
Hi everyone! My name is Adina Samloff and I’m a senior at Bader Hillel High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As you’ve heard about the age old “three second rule” for first impressions, I’m sure you’ve already observed my skirt that covers my knees, my high neckline, and elbow length sleeves. You’re probably assuming I grew up religious. That, my father was the rabbi of the local shul. Or, even that I eat kosher all of the time. The eyes can be deceiving, right? Each one of those statements is false, but only for the time being. I went from not recognizing a single letter of the Hebrew alphabet, to being able to study Torah independently. Let me explain myself because my story may be a little more relatable. But hold tight, you’ll get the jist.
I was born in sunny San Diego to a typical Jewish family with two very nurturing parents and two supportive siblings. My family and I were those casual synagogue-goers. We went when it was convenient for my mom between softball practices and hangouts with my friends to keeping up with the hundred other activities she managed for my siblings and I. Sitting at home was never an option for me. My parents always volunteered to help run programs and signed us up for Sunday school until I was five years old, but I never took it seriously because I was so young.
At that point, our first of many moves was to Richmond, VA for my father’s job. When searching for our new home, the distance to a synagogue was not even considered. So, it was a coincidence that our house was a short 15 minute drive from one. We befriended the Chabad Rabbi’s family, and I ended up hanging out with them a lot. My parents were just glad I was making friends because we were new to the neighborhood. After services on Friday nights, my family was always invited to attend kiddush at their house. My parents found it unconventional to walk during the crisp winters, but I actually enjoyed the conversations that took place on those frosty nights. Even though my family often drove to their house for the meal, I would walk with Rabbi Pereira back to his house and he would tell me funny stories along the way. Looking back, this was a critical moment for me because little did I know, I was committing to a mitzvah every Friday night.
After moving to Charlotte, we relocated to a small town called Vacaville, California. On a chance encounter, which now I call hashgacha prutus or divine intervention, I was looking for matzah on passover, and my family got in touch with Rabbi Chaim and Aidel Zaklos. We Immediately got involved, and I felt the warmth and compassion of the Zaklos family. My passion for Judaism started to crawl out of its shell and they were introducing me to different types of Jewish perspectives on everyday activities. Even their older children, Mussia and Mendel, were teaching me Alef Beis. I became extremely involved in the community – babysitting over holidays, baking challah before Shabbos, and setting up Shabbos dinners. The love and comfort I found at their home was widespread and contagious. It had me coming back for more, and I was practically spending every week at their house. I fell in love with their lifestyle because they made it fun for me. They had me connected on a very practical level to my Judaism and got the ball rolling. However, nine short months later, my family made another move to San Diego, I felt devastated that my learning would come to an end.
After being away for several years and making another move to Nevada and then Georgia, Rabbi Zaklos was telling me during one of our weekly calls about a camp called CTeen Xtreme. If you haven’t heard, it’s a huge road trip along the west coast with Jewish kids. 10 out of 10 would recommend. I was ecstatic to be offered the opportunity. I went on a two-week long religious camp without having a single clue of what to expect. Despite having been hanging out with the Zaklos’, I packed up my hiking shorts, tank tops, and tennis shoes and took a leap on a trip with no familiar faces.
Throughout those inspiring days, I learned how to wake up Jewishly and began to feel a deeper connection. Each Jewish girl I met had something about them that I connected to. There was some type of push and pull within our friendships that was keeping the bond stronger and stronger. I continued to attend my public school despite Rabbi Zaklos convincing me to attend a Jewish school. I kept having flashbacks of my uplifting summer with all of my friends, but did not feel I was ready for the big change. Being around Jewish kids was very rare for me each time we moved because as you now know, my family is not very observant and we ended up moving to a house that was not even close to a synagogue in Southern Georgia. I was deeply saddened, and I told Rabbi Zaklos. He told me about another opportunity to go on CTeen Heritage the summer before my junior year at public school.
I proceeded to partake in a three week long shabbaton to Poland and Israel. 10 out of 10 would also recommend. I quickly learned that skirts were the norm and taking off a whole day to pray was a real thing. I was surprised when people put their phones away to take day-long naps, and realized it was a part of the custom. I mean if I can have an excuse to take a 5 hour long nap, I’ll take it. (haha). On a more serious note, both of my grandfathers were Holocaust survivors, so this trip was very meaningful to me because I was walking in the footsteps of my family that I’ve hugged and kissed all of my life. Several girls from CTeen Xtreme from the summer before attended this shabbaton with me. I felt the embraces of my friends and the conversations once again touched me deeply. The enlightening relationships that I developed with my rebbetzins Manya Lazaroff and Rochel Flikshtein, my counselors, and more importantly my new friends were things I was void of at home. Although I can assure you that I grew up in a very loving home, I wanted the connection that I had over those past few summers to also resonate in my everyday life. I felt like I was my better self and was learning about a part of me that had been hidden for such a long time. It was on this trip that I was informed of a place where I could have the best of both worlds.
Bader Hillel High School offered me a boarding school experience where I could learn with several other Jewish teens despite my lack of knowledge on, well, practically anything, and I could even take AP level courses. I called my parents and they backed me up on making the choice to forge a new path for myself. Rabbi Zaklos was just as excited.
Now, let’s be real, it was hard to transition from a life in public school to a Jewish private school. The staff was devoted to making feel comfortable in my growth and inspiration and while there, I kept my first REAL shabbos. I learned how to style a pair of tights with each of my outfits. I remember telling my Hebrew teacher that the letters looked like gibberish on my first day. I have been extremely successful in our double curriculum that allows me to learn both Jewish and secular subjects, including five AP classes, at my own pace. I also mastered the memorization of over 500 words directly from the Chumash and their translations in my first year, which is a first for a student at Hillel High. I rose to the top 3% of my class and am now in the advanced-level courses after just two years. With the massive amount of support I have from my parents who have been watching me with googly eyes as I started arriving at the airport during breaks in tights and longer skirts, I knew I made the right choice. I took each mitzvah that I learned and found how I could practically apply it to myself.
Now, fast forward to today, and I am not a completely different person, but an improved person. As you have heard now, I have torn my layers away and exposed each of you to my story. This is the young, Jewish woman that I have become. I found strength and courage in the CTeen community.
As I finish off my senior year and make the decision of where I will attend college next year, I remember what inspired me to attend Hillel High. I went as a girl who had a weak connection to Judaism, but now my main considerations for choosing a college include the opportunity to become a member of Sigma Delta Tau, a Jewish sorority, and a future president of a Chabad on Campus. These aspirations would be unheard of without CTeen.
I hope that each of you can find a little piece of yourself in my story whether it’s the moment you were inspired by a phrase you learned in Sunday school or maybe your Rabbi told you to go to that one social event and you were scared to show up alone. But hey, look to your left and look to your right and you’ll see a person just like you. And just like me. Maybe they grew up in an observant home. Maybe they grew up like me. Maybe they grew up without even knowing they were Jewish. Each person will have something that sparks a connection to their Judaism, whether it’s a frosty walk to dinner on Friday nights with the local Rabbi or taking the leap to come to a shabbaton with thousands of other teens who to your eyes may be so different from you. But don’t forget, the eyes can be deceiving, right?