Peretz Chein
Peretz Chein

A Student’s Voice: You Can’t Buy Me a Jewish Identity

This is op-ed is in response to one I published last week titled, “Our World is Changing and So Must We; Otherwise We Are Negligent.

By Jordyn Seri, ‘18

My Jewish identity has been developed through many different experiences. This includes seven years of Hebrew school, six years of Jewish youth group, three summers of Jewish sleep-away camp, several trips to Israel with my family, as well as Birthright and Onward Israel.

These experiences have been wonderful. Learning over the past twenty one years what being Jewish means and does for me has shaped me into the woman I am today. All of these experiences however, were ones that I either had to do (i.e. hebrew school), or were offered in exchange for a free trip to Israel, an internship, or some sort of social experience.

This year, for the first time, I was offered to to have a Jewish experience solely for the sake of the Jewish experience itself. I wasn’t offered money, a flight to Israel, or better yet, a pen with the organization’s logo on it. I was offered a purely, “do it because you want to,” experience. All that was asked from me was to commit 45 minutes a week to Jewish study and there was no membership fee! Nice!

I went for my first session of Jewish study hoping to get a few nagging questions answered, maybe learn a thing or two I didn’t know, and come away being better able to explain Judaism to those who knew less than me.

Wow. That is so not what happened. I began reading books, well, portions of books, about topics in Judaism that interested me, but found myself having trouble getting through some of them. Trust me, my reading comprehension is at a college level, so that wasn’t the problem. It was that these texts weren’t giving me the answers I was hoping for, I wasn’t getting simple confirmation of my well-formed beliefs. I struggled to understand the reasoning some of the authors gave and decided I needed to take a step back and reflect on what this means to me and my Jewish identity.

That, that right there, was the experience that has made the most pointed impact on who I am as a Jew. Having my beliefs challenged by the very religion that aided in their formation was confusing, but I learned that this is exactly what meaningful study is about. This experience forced me to rethink and reshape my understanding of Judaism and to really reach a deeper level of learning and thought.

These short forty five minutes per week of study for the past eight weeks offered me nothing but a space to learn and grow, yet they have been the most formative minutes of the development of my Jewish identity.

I was challenged to find a way to mend the part of my identity that felt torn after reading Jewish thoughts that conflicted with my personal ones. For the first time I had to find a way to take the elements of what I had studied that did not fit into the jigsaw puzzle of my Jewish identity, and come to form my own philosophy of what Judaism is and what it does for me. Looking back it is clear that a lot of my Jewish identity has been fed to me. I finally have begun  to feed my soul on my own, which has been more valuable for my personal growth than any other Jewish experience I have had before.

Here I am now, with more questions than answers, yet feeling more of a connection to myself and my Judaism than ever. Thank you to the Chabad Club for providing me with this unexpected, soul-enriching opportunity and for awakening in me this Jewish thirst for wondering, questioning, struggling, and searching.

To all the students at Brandeis, I urge you to ask Peretz, Chanie, or myself, about joining the Chabad Club. As Peretz is well known for saying, “A soul is a terrible thing to waste.”

The Chabad Club is our first step in implementing what was out outlined in my latest op-ed.

A Student’s Voice is a series of op-eds written by students that I periodically publicized on this platform.

About the Author
Rabbi Peretz Chein is co-founder of the Chabad House at Brandeis, established in 2001. Born in Israel to Russian immigrant parents, Peretz also founded iLearn, an educational program attended by upwards of 100 students. Ran numerous marathons, inspiring students and alumni to join him. Founded a tech-startup that addresses the needs of event organizers, and was recognized for his organization's fiscal transparency.
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