You would think that growing up in Newton, MA would give me a vast base of Jewish knowledge.
However, I started high school with virtually no understanding of what Judaism was, or why it could be meaningful to me in the long run. My parents are both from the former Soviet Union and were therefore not exposed to much religious learning before they moved to Israel as adults. Their five years in Israel were not spent learning about Judaism in depth. They were more preoccupied with school work, getting a job, and later raising a very rambunctious child. When it came time for me to learn about Judaism, they didn’t have much religious knowledge to pass on to me. They opted out of Hebrew school in the States, afraid I would only be resentful towards the religion and culture, so until ninth grade, I lived in solid ignorance of the importance of my Jewish roots. Thankfully, my parents decided that fourteen was old enough for some Jewish learning and sent me to Prozdor, the Hebrew high school at Hebrew College. But I took only history classes and saw little meaning in the religious courses.
Then I came to Tufts.
I decided that now, I would start my own Jewish journey. Unbeknownst to my parents, I started going to Shabbat services at Hillel every Friday night. Even though it felt like I was the only kid in services who had never picked up a siddur (prayer book) in their lives, because I hadn't, I stuck with it. Every Friday, at precisely six in the evening, I would journey across the quad and join my fellow Jewish Jumbos for services and kosher dinner. After a semester of such limited engagement I felt the need to ‘upgrade’. I started spending much more time at Hillel, actually talking to the staff, and slowly I realized that my best friends at Tufts had crossed my path thanks to Hillel events!
In a small attempt to give back to the organization and keep being engaged on a new level, I ran and was elected Treasurer and VP of Operations for my sophomore year. I switched from Reform to Conservative services in an effort to keep learning and took the Meor course offered nightly in the Hillel building. Judaism was taking on a much more intellectual role in my life, rather than a purely cultural one. There were many times when I found my walk home from the library interrupted by a profound discussion of Jewish morality or ethics with friends. Sophomore year I experienced havdalah for the first time, led a Seder for the first time, and actually participate in Torah study rather than just letting the conversation float by.
It’s been two and a half years since I came to Tufts. I went from a completely clueless and insecure Jewish student, to a more confident learner and individual overall. With the help of our amazing Senior Jewish Educator I am planning my Bat Mitzvah for next year. The theme is 21 going on 12. You are all invited!
Simona Gilman is a junior at Tufts University, studying International Relations and Economics.