2016 Cole Essay Contest Winning Essay

Perpetuating My Jewish Faith Through L’dor V’dor by Adelaide Feibel

“Mommy, if I have a bat mitzvah, will I no longer be Catholic?” I asked. My voice shook. My mother’s face became a swirl of warm colors, and my eyes filled with tears.

Even as a third grader, I already knew the answer. I knew that by choosing to have a bat mitzvah, I had made a decision to be Jewish like my father. Still, there I stood in front of my mother, terrified and guilt-ridden. To me, it seemed that I had abandoned my mother, and I was scared that my decision would make her feel unloved and isolated. But without hesitating, my mother wrapped me up in her arms and told me, “No, you won’t be Catholic anymore, but you’ll always be a part of me.” Much to my relief, my mother embraced my decision.

But my parents had not anticipated their children having to make this choice. Both of my parents’ faiths necessitate that religion should be passed on l’dor v’dor, (“from generation to generation” in Hebrew). Before they married, my parents decided that their daughters would be Catholic and their sons Jewish. At my baptism, my Jewish relatives filled three-quarters of the church pews, and I wore the lace christening gown that my Jewish grandmother had lovingly stitched.

Though this event marked my initiation into Catholicism, as a child, I fully believed that I was both Jewish and Catholic, affectionately calling myself and my siblings “cashews”. Each December, stockings lined the mantle and a Christmas tree twinkled in our living room, while across the hall, dreidels decorated our dining room and the slowly burning candles of the menorah lit up the windows. My father woke us every Christmas to tell us that Santa had visited, and my mother made matzoh ball soup every Passover. However, it was always uncomfortable sitting next to my father at mass as everyone else stood to receive Communion. I felt equally frustrated fumbling through Hebrew prayer books at synagogue. But as I danced in the middle of the horah circle at my older cousins’ bat and bar mitzvahs, I no longer felt like an outsider at the fringe of two religions. Encircled in the love of my larger-than-life family, I finally felt like I belonged.

Realizing my desire to be part of something larger than myself, my mother not only supported my choice to have a bat mitzvah, but she was the one who schlepped me every Monday to Hebrew tutoring. She listened to me practicing my prayers and planned all the details of my bat mitzvah down to the red color of my relatives’ ties, since red is my favorite color.

Staring out at the faces of all my Jewish and Catholic relatives at my bat mitzvah, never had I felt so serenely confident with myself and my decision. I looked at my mother’s face. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she beamed at me with love and pride. At that point, l’dor v’dor took on a new meaning for me.

Thus, the foundations of my Judaism were based on my love for my family, but as I grew older, my experiences broadened my Jewish identity. The summer of my freshman year, I went to Israel on the Columbus Jewish Federation’s Partnership2gether program, and the friendships I made on that trip forever bound me to Israel. My host buddy on the trip, Hadar, has become one of my best friends, and though we come from different countries and speak different languages, our common religion allowed our friendship to blossom. It was then I realized the power of Judaism to connect me not only to my family but to a country and a global community.

My belief in the importance of a Jewish community has inspired me to join Hillel when I am in college and take part in services and classes there. Furthermore, for me, Israel has become more than just a safe haven or a holy land. Israel is Hadar and all the other people that I love there, and when I stand up for Israel, I am standing up for each and every one of my Israeli friends. Therefore, I will join AIPAC at my college and defend Israel’s right to exist any chance I get. With the rise of the BDS movement, it is more important than ever to have strong advocates of Israel on college campuses. On many occasions, I have defended Israel to friends and peers with different opinions than I and explained that Israel is a peace-loving nation where freedom and innovation thrive.

Furthermore, as President of my school’s Jewish Cultural Club, I have led several presentations about the Holocaust and Anti-Semitism to our high school. This experience in Israel advocacy will help me be a leader for the Pro-Israel movement at my college. To continue to educate myself on the conflict, I plan on taking classes in Arabic, Hebrew, and Middle Eastern Politics so that some day I may be able to perpetuate peace in Israel and solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all.

I know that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is bigger than I am, but in college, I want to at least foster a community of acceptance and tolerance one person at a time. As a person raised in a religiously diverse household, in college, I want to celebrate the religious diversity of my classmates and friends, whether it be by going to church with one of my Christian friends on a Sunday or an Iftar celebration with a Muslim friend, or just by friendly discussion. By showing acceptance and appreciation for the religious identities of others, I will not only represent the Jewish religion as an accepting and tolerant one, but also show my own love for Judaism. Even within the Jewish religion, there is a great diversity in practice and beliefs. In college, I want to make everyone feel comfortable in their religious and Jewish identities because I personally know how important and liberating it is to gain acceptance for one’s religious identity. Even though my mother is not Jewish, she allowed me to realize my Jewish identity through her acceptance and encouragement. My mother passed this lesson of acceptance to me l’dor v’dor, and I intend to continue to embrace my religious identity by helping others embrace their own.