Below are this year’s reflections from our Confirmation Class.
My Jewish identity is different depending on where I am, whether I am at school or home or at the temple. At temple being Jewish is normal as ever because everybody is Jewish. At temple, my Jewish identity shows itself more as I feel relaxed about my Jewish identity because nobody has any question about what being Jewish is like. For example, why are you Jewish, why are you not wearing those little hats, and etc. (Not that I don’t mind the questions, but they sometimes start to get annoying.) But these annoyances don’t happen at the temple, which makes temple fell so holy and happy. It makes me even more Proud of being part of the Jewish people.
At home being Jewish is normal too. I know that I am Jewish, and nothing feels strange or different to me. Not like at school. It is very strange to be one of two out of 2000 kids that are Jewish. It feels good to be different, but sometimes I like to keep it to myself so I don’t create too much attention at school. (Mostly because of the annoying questions people have to ask.) I still fast at school on Yom Kippur and have no bread for Passover. (The school lunch isn’t that good, so I’m not missing out on anything special!)
Being Jewish is something I am always proud of. I am glad and proud that our people were able to survive through so many hardships, and how we overcame them makes me even prouder that I am Jewish. I enjoy that being Jewish because it involves lots of delicious food (that I am too picky to try!), and how I got to get picked up in a chair during my Bar Mitzvah. (And I almost fell out of it.) But besides all that, being Jewish I think is a blessing by itself and my identity of being Jewish shows it a lot. (Amen)
When it comes to my own self-identity, I feel like I live to different lives with two different versions of me.
In my secular life, I am a workaholic who loves the performing arts. At my school, I am a dependable straight-A student with honors and AP classes and a 4.5 GPA, but I am also a member of my school’s Academy of the Arts. I’m what is known as a Triple Threat performer because I’m taking four years of theatre, four years of choir, and four years of dance along with AP Music Theory and IB Music. I have participated in numerous theatre festivals, choral festivals, and honor choirs. I’m a very opportunistic person, as you can see, taking advantage of every program at my fingertips, because I know it will make me a better person, performer, and student. Do I get a lot of sleep or free time? Definitely not. Do I think this is absolutely worth it? I love to learn and that makes all the difference.
In my Jewish life, I have a much more introspective identity as opposed to my secular life. I have always felt like I have had a very personal relationship with God. In one confirmation class that was very meaningful to me this year, we discussed how we see and interact with God. After making some scratch marks on the form, I ended up with my answer. To me, God is my partner in creation. I had a strong positive reaction to that answer and it reaffirmed that personal connection. I express my personal connection with God through personal monologues during prayer time, reflecting on the status of my life, and if I’m lucky, I also get to do this during other times when I’m in a meditative trance, like yoga.
Even with the differences between my secular and Jewish life, without either, I wouldn’t be my whole self.
When being asked the question, “What is your Jewish identity?”, I at first found it difficult to come up with an answer. That is not something you think about on a day to day basis where you are surrounded by people of different beliefs. It was particularly hard for me to come up with an answer based on having parents of different faiths. I had been exposed to both Judaism and Christianity until the age of eight where I decided I wanted to fully dedicate myself to Judaism.
The first few times I came to temple, I found it difficult to learn Hebrew because I had joined at least a year after everyone else. I was also behind in creating friendships that others had already developed. However, I did not let that stop me from attending retreats, Camp Shalom, services, and Sunday school. My Jewish identity was being created with every event I went to. I had always felt “less Jewish” than others because of my family history. After telling Rabbi this, she helped me realize that in fact she believed that choosing Judaism made me “more Jewish.” The Torah states (Leviticus 16:16) “ that God’s relationship with His people remains unaffected regardless of their behavior.” Whether a person does not go to services, keep kosher, or pray everyday does not mean that they are any less Jewish.
The morals that I have learned from being Jewish make me the person I am today. Through temple I have learned that the world is bigger than me and the community that I live in. It is important to perform mitzvot and helping others has become something that I am passionate about doing. I hope that I am always kind, respectful, and helpful to everyone I meet. People should never be ashamed to be Jewish. I know that I am proud of all the hardships the Jewish people have overcome. I find it very rewarding to be able to talk to others about my religion. We are all unique and when faced with people who are disrespectful towards Judaism I believe we need to speak up and take a stand. It is important to me to make a difference and hopefully leave a legacy.
The definition of identity is the condition of being oneself and not another. This means being unique in your own way. During the 16 years of my life, I have shaped myself into the person who is standing before you. I have not blended into what society wants me to be. I believe that doing so would be going against my identity. At school, I constantly see people trying too hard to be like everyone else that they don’t even know who they are. They lose sight of their potential and the person they can be if they embrace their inner self. They have done this to simply fit in. To not stand out. I feel sorry for these people. They find it so impossible to fit in if they are themselves that they have to pretend to be someone else. Why wouldn’t you want to be you? Why wouldn’t you want to show people the real you? Are you scared? Do you think they wont except you? That’s their loss!
Identity is a key trait in everyone that they need to embrace. If they don’t, the world will be full of robots all being the same person as the next. Think about the Nazis during World War 2. The German people had to be raised since the day they were born to be a Nazi. They didn’t have a choice to have their own unique identity. We have a choice!
As Jewish teens we need to step up and show our personal identity. The fact that we are Jews means that our identify must include some aspect of Judaism. If it doesn’t than the Jewish teens of the world wouldn’t want to be involved in their Jewish heritage. We need to inspire other Jewish teens with our enthusiasm to Judaism to get involved in a Jewish life. Just showing our pride in being a Jew could give other Jewish teens the motivation to want to get involved and embrace their Jewish identify. And who knows, maybe it would inspire kids in general to want to embrace their own identity.
Cheer practice at 3. Study for Honors Pre Calculus test tomorrow. Babysitting at 5 but leave at 4:30 so you have time to get there. AP Exam is in a month so better start studying now. Bake cookies for football players because that’s part of being a cheerleader apparently. Don’t forget to fill their locker room with balloons and streamers before the big game. Never mind, they lost the last game we did that so we’re not allowed to spend our time and money decorating for them…makes sense. Honors British Literature quiz on Macbeth sometime this week so better study every night. Try to ignore the never-ending stream of judgmental comments that fill your phone in the form of group chats. Find time to run. Remind the teacher you were at a religious retreat for the quiz she gave you a zero on but try not to be too annoying. Don’t get sick, you can’t afford to miss another day of chemistry. Change your entire schedule for the last minute cheer competition because we didn’t place first at the last one. Guess you’re not going on the NFTY retreat your parents already paid the deposit for that weekend. Don’t miss cheer events for Jewish retreats. You already missed all summer for “Jew camp” – which was totally fine but you know. Don’t waste your potential becoming something like a makeup artist, otherwise why are you taking all these insane classes? Remind people to join the Temple Youth Group. I promise it’s fun, but we can’t actually do anything unless you help. Or show up. Remind people that just because you’re the Rabbi’s daughter doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. Remind yourself no one is perfect and to give yourself a break every once in a while. After you finish Spanish homework the teacher didn’t put online until 9 pm. And bake a batch of brownies for this week’s game.
I didn’t choose this identity. It’s what makes me the person I am and I’m okay with that. Yes, it’s a lot being me, but it’s also a lot being Clarisa or Daniel or Connor or Claire or any one of us up here. We just need to take a moment every now and then to make sure we aren’t conforming to society’s idea of what we should be, but rather conforming society’s idea itself to fit our standards of who we want to be.
My identity is something that is special because it’s me and no one can have it. It tells who I am and who I will be towards other people. As you can tell I am very tall and I am very strong. That is usually what you only see when you look at me. But with my class they have seen that I am a nice, kind, and gentle guy, who doesn’t like to hurt people. And that is just who I am.
My identity is shaped by where I live. I live in Tustin which is a good city with no real problems. The people are very nice and they care a lot about their community. There is my family who live in this town and who protect me and I protect them. Even though I may not need her to and it can get annoying at times, my mom protects me with everything, but I love her for it. Then there is my sister who has just finished her first year in college. She is a loving sister who bugs me and I bug her without even trying. And finally, my dad who is the one who is the most caring to me even though he doesn’t like to show it. He has cared for me even though he was sick and said, “I don’t need any help unless I ask for it.” Yes, my family may drive me crazy, but we love each other just the same.
Now about my Jewish life: I may not follow some things like other Jewish people, I don’t think of myself as being religious. For me, there is another way to be Jewish and that is to be cultural and a social Jew. I’d rather meet people in a fun situation rather than a class. To be honest, class breaks are the best time because we could share what we want with one another. It was good that I got to be a part of that and later they became my friends. My Identity I believe is something unique because I’m kind, loving, nonjudgmental, and trusting, pacifist, and a good friend. But lastly the one reason my identity is unique is because it’s me.
Our personalities are constantly changing as our environment changes all around us based on an infinite variety of factors, even if we don’t notice it. We stress over jobs, create and end relationships, and expose ourselves to new people every day, all of which give us a new outlook onto life, and, in turn, shape our defining characteristics. However, everyone tends to keep certain fundamental elements under these superficial influences. These fundamental elements are what constitute our identity and make us unique.
We, as confirmands, altogether have one thing in common–the defining part of us that makes us Jewish and therefore different from almost everyone we interact with in public and at school. I have attended the public school system for as long as I can remember, which makes me, as a young adult, stand out among my peers as the only one raised immersed in the Jewish community. My community gave me the Jewish lens that I use to observe other cultures and traditions in respect to my own. I look at my Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, and Hindu peers who feel a connection to their religion and to their religious communities whom I can relate to, as I feel the same way and make the same connection to my Jewish community. Through this, I can establish unique relationships with my peers based on my unique identity as a young Jewish adult.
Ever since I was about six years old, I have enjoyed playing the piano, infusing a variety of music, from classical to baroque to romantic, into my overall cultural identity. However, I am yet to hear any music similar to that of the Jewish setting. The sounds carried through history from ancient times have a certain ring to them that I form a personal connection to. And, a few years ago, I was thrilled to hear that the Cantor had invited me to play the piano in the Tefillah Band that plays on Friday night Shabbat services. Through this, I finally learned the songs I had heard throughout the years and was able to connect them to my fingers on the piano. The part of my identity composed of music practice and appreciation had made a new connection to the Jewish part of my identity that stands as unique.
If someone were to ask me “who are you?”, I would tell them that, on the surface, I am constantly changing in response to various changes in my environment. These changes may affect me temporarily, but I know that they will never affect the deep-rooted characteristics I carry from my childhood. Fundamentally, I am socially, musically, and personally oriented, connecting each of these elements with the Jewish values and traditions that make me truly unique.
Following confirmation class on Sundays, I go to the Tustin Sports Park as a “Soccer Buddy”, assisting and playing beside developmentally disabled kids and adolescents during a soccer game. These kids, from different backgrounds, different upbringings, and having different disabilities, all have one thing in common. On the sidelines, supportive and enthusiastic parents, cheering for their kids regardless of the score, or how their kid is doing. Often times following the couple of hours I spend on the field, I come home exhausted. Although working with the kids is rewarding, I can’t imagine the kind of character the parents have. I realize that although two hours may seem like a long time for me, this may be the only opportunity in the week for these parents to decompress and relax a little. Nevertheless, they still smile and cheer for their kids, granting them an amazing opportunity to play sports, even with their disability.
Which poses the question, what makes them different from you and I, is it luck, science, or an act of God? Maybe it’s all of the three. When I look around on the field, much like the children they are helping, the volunteers like myself come from different backgrounds, different schools, and different religions.
Judaism teaches the ideas of charity, and giving back, which play a role in my volunteering, but what are the other volunteers motives? It may not be religious based, but when I look out onto the field, and see everybody playing together, I can’t help but notice how similar we all are. Although everybody on that field may not have the same disability, not come from the same community, or not have the same intentions, we are all the same. We are all human, and we are all made in the image of God.
When people think of a Jew, they don’t typically think of a Guatemalan with tan skin and dark brown hair. However there is no “typical Jew” because Jews aren’t a specific group, a Jew is someone who shares the Jewish beliefs. Even though I don’t typically go to services unless it is a holiday I’m an active part of the Jewish religion and culture. When rabbi first asked the question “who are you and what is your Jewish identity?” It took me a while to respond.
Honestly I’ve never thought about my identity, let alone my Jewish one. I guess I’d describe myself as a caring and intelligent person who loves animals, however I never fully realized that part of what made me who I am was because of my Jewish upbringings. For the first time I realized that my Jewish upbringing has made an impact on how I view life. I have been faced with choices I have had to make in my life and I have noticed that I make them while looking through a Jewish lens – I’m influenced by Jewish values. The Jewish values that appeal most to me are: V’Ahavta l’reyecha c’mocha – Love your neighbor as yourself, Mitzvot- Acts of loving kindness, and Tikkun Olam – Repair the world. I believe the reason that I strive to help others is because I’ve been taught that these values are extremely important in making a difference in life and valuing life itself.
Last year was an emotionally difficult year because one of my best friends thought that the world would be better off without him. The day he made this decision he called me, and luckily I was able to show him that he is loved and that I will be there to repair him. At the time, even though I was struggling with my depression I still made it a point to care for him. I made choices that I don’t think I would have made without these Jewish values guiding me. I could have easily put my problems before him after I talked him out of leaving; instead, the value of V’Ahavta l’reyecha c’mocha – Love your neighbor as yourself, guided me into choosing to do differently.
I don’t believe I’d be the same person standing up here today, if it wasn’t for my Jewish values guiding me through life. The values that I mentioned earlier have helped me be a better person and have taught me to care for others. My Jewish Identity and my identity are one in the same. Without my Jewish Identiy my regular identity wouldn’t be the same as it is now.
Who am I, I ask myself again and again just trying to figure out something to say, rather than just stating the obvious of what you can see. I am caring and sarcastic, but let me tell you I’d be there for you no matter what. And lets not forget the never-ending responsibilities that shape me into me. And when I say never ending I really mean it, go to school, go to practice, do my homework, read books to expand the brain, keep myself updated on world events, know who this musician, this author, this scientist is, finish layouts, take pictures, keep my eyes out for any great stories and events that we can share, and above all make sure to relax. No one says that being an editor for the magazine and yearbook, AP student, and athlete is ever easy. But I mean c’mon this is what I wanted and there is no part of me that wants to back down. This motivation to strive for the best comes from the experiences I have been through starting at a young age. When I was younger I would go to Jewish day camp at Gan Izzie, pre-school and years of religious school, which no doubt showed me how to be caring and independent. Being Jewish always gave me a little bit of sparkle that no one else at school ever had well I was growing and only a handle full of people now, at school have. And its awesome to be apart of well a “club” per se, and having all these amazing people I get to share my life with, all the memories and laughs, the learning I have had the chance to experience. I don’t think that I would be close to the person I am today without my Jewish identity, always being there never hiding away in the corner, never being put down for what I believe, because I’m pretty strong headed so I make sure people don’t make the same mistakes again.
My identity is something that is so unique to me and as it is to every single person. Biologically my looks and frame are what others and I see on the outside. But its what’s and who’s around me that shaped me into who I choose to recognize myself with, like my brothers and parents who are the wildest, most loving cast of characters I could be blessed with. And my friends who I couldn’t make it through the long days without. I would say that most of who I am comes from the determination to challenge and better myself, and the experiences I had growing up with my Jewish community which has and will continue to have a massive impact on me, in the way I think, the subjects and things I take an interest in.
Our writing prompt for this Confirmation Class of 2015 is “Who Are You”? Who am I? That is a very good question. Well, I can easily tell you that my name is Connor Matthew Zimmermann and that I was born on June 7, 1999.
Our identity is established by three things: Our genetics – I’m 6’4” tall with blond hair and blue eyes, and that I wear a size 14 shoe: and please do not ask my mother how difficult it is to find size 14 shoes, because you won’t hear the end of it.
Our identity is shaped by our Community. From the neighborhood we live in, the school we go to and the things that surround us every day. I live in Anaheim Hills in the same house I’ve been in my whole life. I think I would feel a great sense of loss if I moved anywhere else. I’m a sophomore at Orange Lutheran High School in Orange and play baseball for them as THE pitcher, where I get to do my thing.
And finally, our identity is formed by our Jewish Self. I knew at a young age that I was part of this wonderful Jewish family. I have two Jewish families: the first that started in the infant room at TBS and went through preschool, and then on to religious school where I became a Bar Mitzvah, and today as I stand here in Confirmation. And then there is my own Jewish family at home. I love how my mom would make special dinners on Friday nights and we would light the Shabbat candles. My family attends High Holy Day services every year and of course we light our Chanukah candles before opening a present every night for eight nights. My non-Jewish friends thought that was so cool and they said they wanted to be Jewish, but I don’t think any of them actually converted.
After all these experiences, I thought I would be able to easily answer, “Who am I?” But, life continues to give me experiences that cause me to learn more about who I am.
Things change, I change. I got my braces off after 2 ½ years. I’m just about ready to get my driver’s license, and I continue to work hard to hopefully spend my life fulfilling my dream of being a professional baseball player.
Life also throws many challenges at us in shaping our identity. When I was in 5th grade, I was the victim of being bullied. So much so that it was called a “hate crime.” While it was painful to go through, I discovered that it made me stronger in my identity as a Jew. I never, for one moment, let those bullies convince me that there was something wrong with me. My friends and family surrounded me with love and support, and I knew who I was then as I know who I am today.
I am Connor Matthew Zimmermann all 6’4” blond hair, blue eyed, size 14 shoe, baseball playing, ready to be driving, worried about college, Jewish member of this congregation and our society. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
All of the above self stories are beautiful. These students are strong/ mature in their belief and their place in their school culture and in their religious faith.Blessings for them all, they are the future for Jews in America. Their strength is our strength.
Am very impressed with Claire Cohen, mozal tov to her and may she always keep this strength within herself through out her life. A leader of her own and most likely of others in the future. Being oneself may be the hardest way to live but definitely the one that will always give you the deepest inner peace, tranquility, resilience and satisfaction to overcome adversity and the odds in life while enjoying and loving the reality in and of this world. Blessings to you Claire and to all the Confirmation students, may you keep your ‘identities’ forever.