Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hiding the Jew in Me

This blog post from Molly Tobin (Wheaton College Class of 2013) was originally published in the Wheaton Wire on September 28, 2011.

Earlier in the week, a friend posted on my Facebook wall addressing me as her, “Jew friend.” Last night as I was sitting in my kitchen at home, my mother walked in carrying two trays of homemade challah she had just hand-braided. These are a fraction of my weekly experiences that remind me of the obvious: I am Jewish.

I grew up in a household that celebrated all of the Jewish holidays and felt proud to be Jewish. Judaism was a part of my daily life, as were Jewish values and the concept of Tikkun Olum – repairing the world.

When I graduated High School I was sure of who I was and yet my first day on campus my Freshman year I felt the need to reinvent myself. The part about myself that I went to great lengths to avoid was my faith. It wasn’t that I felt unsafe or unwelcome as a Jew, but with such a small population of Wheaton’s campus identifying as Jewish, I didn’t want to be part of such an obvious minority. I wanted to fit in, so I thought it couldn’t be with this small group of people. Furthermore, when I did appear at a Hillel event there were only a handful of people. I couldn’t help but question where everyone was, surely there were more than 10 Jews at Wheaton. I thought maybe being Jewish isn’t fashionable and I hid myself from Jewish life as I think so many others on campus do.

My second year at school I realized I couldn’t try to reinvent myself and be happy. I started to become involved in clubs, but I still felt lost. In December I made a daring decision to travel with a group of 40 strangers to Israel on Birthright. I completely fell in love with the country, but finally realized I was undeniably Jewish. It’s not that I consider myself to be a religious person; it’s quite the opposite. It’s the culture of Judaism that I love and I had been denying myself a major part of who I am and the sense of belonging. This summer, after two more trips to Israel, during a month long program for Jews aged 18-26 in California, I was asked to write down 5 things that described me. It took a mere moment to write my first answer, “Jewish.” When asked to explain my answer I simply said, “if I wasn’t Jewish I don’t know who or what I would be.”

Wheaton prides itself on acceptance and diversity and I am now proud to be part of a small population on campus. I am privileged to be apart of a campus where people feel comfortable and accepted to display their religion, sexuality and beliefs. It has taken me two years to abandon and regain my love of Judaism. It was a struggle to get to where I am today, though I couldn’t be happier about where I have arrived.

To all of you who have never hesitated to express yourself I say Yasher koach – a job well done and may you have the strength to continue. I also thank you for showing me the way to do the same for myself.

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