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Being the Jewish Girl

Jojo Barnett

December 20th, 2017

If you were to ask one of my classmates to describe me, they’d probably use “Jewish” as a main adjective. And as one of the few observant Jews in public high school (there are two in my grade), I open myself up to this—I’ve come to expect my religion to be used as a defining factor of who I am.

But this territory comes with baggage. It comes with classmates badgering me with random, vaguely Jewish songs or sayings whenever I walk in a room, with the necessity of giving a speech on the details of all of our holidays and customs to every teacher when I need them to sign my absence form, with constantly being asked if my parents are rabbis because people assume the only reason I might want to be religious is my heritage. A constant othering, a “you are fundamentally different from us.”

But I don’t dare to complain. If I do, the response is something along the lines of “Well, it’s your choice to be religious.” And it’s true; it was my choice to live my life this way. But I have every right to be annoyed if the homework assigned over a weekend is impossible to do in the one day I have because of Shabbat, or if this is the thirtieth time I’ve had to explain Shemini Atzeret to a well-meaning teacher. I have the right to complain when our Jewish history unit in school consists of watching documentaries for a week, but we spend months of class on Jesus.

I honestly love being Jewish. I’m a part of an amazing community, my Wednesday lesson (where I’m currently studying Talmud) is one of my favorite parts of my week, and having Shabbat is a time when I can relax and not worry about the 20-pound weight of my school work crushing me. While being a religious person in a largely secular (or at least non-Jewish) world is difficult, it is 100% worth it to me. All I’m asking is to realize that your observant friends exist, but we are not defined by our faith. Know that yes, I’m Jewish, but I’m also a pre-professional dance student and an art history and computer science nerd. Know that I hide a bag of chocolate chips on the top shelf to eat when I get stressed, my favorite kind of cookie is oatmeal chocolate chip, and I just discovered The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (and I’m obsessed). “Jewish Girl” is not my name— Jojo is.