I think it’s about time that I share my story about being on American Idol and how it changed my life in the most unconventional way, connecting me to my Jewish Identity and turning cold stones for the better. To those reading, you may or may not remember me, but I was on the hit television series about four years ago rocking a huge auburn bush and a giant Magen David. It’s so long ago that it isn’t relevant much to the common television junkie including myself, but my purpose for sharing this story is greater than that. To me it’s not about waving a giant aged trophy in the air saying “LOOK AT ME”, but it’s about giving hope from a vulnerable spot of my own because I see so many people in our community losing hope today, and I just wanted to shed some light.

Starting off, I must say that as a child I had always been singing and always dreamt of being on American Idol. I recall playing with my neighbors in the garage, pretending that we were the judges of the show, and singing for each other in sheer innocent joy. My earliest childhood was surrounded by family love, happy Jewish day school festivities, and pure innocence to this day I miss. It was a bright time for me but also the beginning of a dragged on, dark period. By the time I was eight years old, I got switched to a secular private school  and the cycle of madness had started then. For years from elementary to middle and high school I was constantly the target and constantly tormented for things I couldn’t control such as my interest in the arts, my high pitched girly voice, the fact that I couldn’t toss a football like all the other child machos, and the list could go on and on.

As I entered sophomore year of high school, I began a period through which I could barely look at myself in the mirror without feeling a sense of sadness and disgust for my appearance. Days after days, I would begin throwing out the lunches my mother packed me and substituting nutrition with Marlboro Menthols and constant napping as an escape. Although I was out of my mind, I still stayed up late dreaming of my music, dreaming of being happier. These awful days added up to an entire year of losing a lot of my mental stability as well as my physical health and the reality around me. One morning in June, my mom woke me up and told me we were going for a routine check up at the Miami Children’s Hospital and little did I know, I wouldn’t return home for two weeks. I had been treated for an eating disorder at which I was extremely underweight and my heart rate wasn’t even close to what the normal, average heart rate should be and I’ll leave it at that.

Following this downfall, I found myself inspired to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine and try out for American Idol. I had no idea what to expect, but I was beyond excited to finally be of age and be able to do so. My entire family (all six of us) crammed in a hotel room for a week while I went through the audition process, still healing and forever dreaming. My parents were my biggest support as my Dad travelled with me each step of the way, and my mom continued to supply me with free jars of honey from the hotel so I could sing on point. After many rounds of stressful auditions and back and forth flying, I had excelled and made it to the Top Twenty-Four contestants of one of the most watched shows in the world. Although I had been cut at that point, it was truly where my wings spread and I continued to fly up from the black hole I’d dug below myself. I traveled to Israel that following summer and performed for the JCC Maccabi Games and Arts Fest ceremonies, and for the first time, even past all the limelight, I finally felt a center within myself. I felt home.

It was from that point that I realized what the source of my suffering was, in both my childhood days and my recent days prior to the experience. I had loathed myself and lacked a sense of identity, always wanting to be someone else because I had been told for so long that who I was wasn’t good enough. It was being in Israel and feeling close to a place I never called home or had no emotional connection to that allowed for me to feel safe to grow and learn about myself and my people’s history. Finding a sense of grounding and belonging to my Jewish identity allowed for me to heal from trauma, both amazing and awful, and continue to patch up my lost self. One could ask, what does lack of Jewish identity have to do with poor body image and self destructive patterns, and my answer would be this: It’s not because I lacked pride in my Judaism or the State of Israel that I was so lost within myself, but finding this connection especially at such a dramatic point in my life, cemented my chances for better healing myself and staying grounded.

Four years later, I am about to graduate Berklee College of Music with a degree in songwriting and performance. I’ve spent each year here at school involving myself in being an advocate for Israel, most recently through StandWithUs. Simultaneously, I’ve written music and truly felt my inner self breaking apart and healing and growing in all the ways it should. I’ve found that both the life of art and my Jewish Identity are a Yin and Yang and I’m more grateful for that than any ounce of limelight I’ve ever received.

To conclude, to all of those reading, my purpose in telling this story was to give you a sense of hope more than anything. I see so many people losing hope today in all aspects of life and I just really wanted to share this story because it’s one of falling down hard, and rising up so high and staying there through the best ways possible. Regardless of politics, religion, sexuality, and all the controversy behind what it means to be connected to your Jewish Identity, remember that there is always a way to stay grounded throughout the highest and the lowest parts of your life. In micro perspective, always remember that you can sink very low, but there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel waiting for you to embrace it when you’re ready. In macro perspective, as a nation, we can never lose hope because it is hope and connection that keeps us united as a people, and that is something unbreakable. Always remember that. I wish everyone reading this the best of success and happiness above all.

Am Israel Chai and shalom <3