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Danielle Sobkin

In the Shadows of Identity

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From the moment I stepped foot on campus, I was faced with a barrage of questions from individuals trying to define me solely by my Jewishness. Some saw me as an ambassador for all things Jewish, expecting me to effortlessly recite prayers and traditions. They labeled me as “too Jewish,” as if my identity could be measured on a scale of authenticity. On the other hand, there were those who dismissed my Jewishness altogether, viewing it as a relic of the past or a cultural quirk making me part of an out-group. It didn’t take me long to feel “not Jewish enough,” as if I failed to meet some predetermined criteria.

My parents were raised in the Soviet Union, unable to openly practice or observe their Judaism. As a result, I was not raised in a household that equipped me to navigate the complexities of my Jewish identity. My lack of awareness was not a result of being inattentive, but rather stemmed from the fact that we never discussed how to navigate the ‘outside’ world. After leaving my parents’ home, I found myself ill-prepared to understand how Judaism fit into my life. I lacked the guidance and knowledge to fully comprehend and embrace my heritage, leaving me to forge my own connection to these roots. While in college, I have embarked on a personal exploration, delving into books, engaging in conversations with peers, and immersing myself in Jewish culture through campus events. I yearned to bridge the gap between the heritage denied to my parents and the desire to reclaim it in my own life.

This struggle to find my place in the Jewish community has been a constant source of anxiety and frustration for me. I’ve spent countless hours reading about Jewish history, culture, and religion, trying to educate myself and fill the gaps in my knowledge. But no matter how much I learn, I still feel like an outsider—like I’m on the periphery, looking in. Being Jewish on campus can feel overwhelming, with constant expectations pulling me in different directions. It’s like walking a tightrope, trying to honor my heritage while also fitting into secular societal norms. 

My Jewishness has been scrutinized, as if it can be measured by external standards. I’ve felt the weight of an invisible checklist I must complete to validate my Jewish identity. This has left me feeling inadequate and disconnected from my roots. I’ve battled with impostor syndrome, questioning whether I truly belong to the rich tapestry of Jewish history and culture. These doubts have chipped away at my self-confidence, and I’ve found myself searching for authenticity amid the cacophony of societal expectations. However, despite the turmoil, I’ve realized that I cannot allow others to define my identity. It is a constantly-evolving tapestry woven from my own experiences, beliefs, and connections.

At times, it’s been tempting to give up on my Jewish identity altogether. It’s hard to feel like you belong in a community when you don’t seem to fit in. But I think about my parents and their experiences—how they were denied the opportunity to practice their religion and how they fought to keep their Jewish identity alive. It’s because of their sacrifices that I have the opportunity to celebrate and explore my Judaism. I owe it to them to continue on this journey, even when it’s difficult. So I keep going. I keep reading, learning, and exploring. I attend events and services, even when it feels uncomfortable.

The emotional journey of being “too Jewish” and “not Jewish enough” has tested my resilience, but it has also shaped me into a stronger, more compassionate individual. My time on campus has forced me to confront and reclaim my Jewishness, molding me into a person unafraid to be authentic. I have come to realize that the essence of being Jewish lies not in adhering to predefined expectations but in the meaningful connections we forge with our heritage and community. My college years have taught me that being “too Jewish” or “not Jewish enough” are societal constructs that limit the beauty and complexity of Jewish identity.

With Stories Yet To Be Told,

Danielle

About the Author
Danielle Sobkin is a student at the University of California, Berkeley pursuing a double major in Data Science and Economics. With a deep connection to the global Jewish community, she has served on the Hillel International Student Cabinet (HISC) and works as a Data Scientist with Jewish on Campus (JOC). As the daughter of Soviet refugees and a first-generation student, Danielle draws inspiration from her unique background and aims to connect with others through her writing. She is passionate about conveying the importance of Jewish Joy in everyday life and creating a more inclusive and understanding community.
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