Affectionate, passionate, and dedicated describes the environment in which I was fortunate enough to have been raised. When I was five, my father passed away from a sudden heart attack. Despite the overwhelming loss, my mother mustered the courage and resources to raise me to be a balanced individual with the potential to achieve great things.
Religious identity has always been an important aspect to my family. When my father was younger, he would always contribute to the spreading of yidishkite. When a Chabad emissary asked him, ‘Are you Jewish’Would you like to put on tefilin,’ he would, with pleasure, accept their invitation. This essence of fully embracing religion runs centrally through me as I make the transition into adulthood.
I’m not like most of your candidates who have been raised in a religious environment all their lives. I have made significant strides to be where I am today. When I was fourteen, I was inspired to raise my level of religious awareness by a group of counselors who participated in Camp Gan Israel in Plano, Texas. During their first Shabbat, they invited me to join them and open to new opportunities, I eagerly accepted their offer. I’m glad I did because the journey continues to be rich and surprising.
My observance of Shabbat and kosher has taken me to deeper levels of understanding about Judaism. Just recently, I’ve begun to incorporate an expanded sense of modesty in my lifestyle. These changes have been gradual but meaningful. Given that I live in a predominantly secular culture, the transitions have been laced with obstacles.
In particular, attending a public school has come with its share of challenges. I get those occasional questions, ‘What is Shabbat? Why are you dressing so covered up? Why can’t you eat what we’re eating?’ and I explain in terms my peers can understand. It has made me proud to be a Jew and challenge myself more to transform the way religious Jews are viewed in today’s secular society. I hope to continue to foster my commitment to Judaism in college, while honoring my father’s memory.