I Wanted To Be Jewish Again
By Cosette Drook, Emory '23
Like my mother and grandparents before me, I spent my childhood attending Hebrew Sunday school, which turned into Sunday and Wednesday school in the years leading up to my Bat Mitzvah. Frankly, there wasn’t much I liked about Hebrew school. I doubt I am alone in this opinion, but I have been hard pressed to find anyone who absolutely resented it as much as I did. In fact, my first time being “grounded” was a result of me throwing a tantrum and refusing to enter Sunday school in first grade.
However, it would be unfair to blame my synagogue for this as my younger sister greatly enjoyed her time at Hebrew school. Although as an elementary schooler I did not have the foresight to realize this, my experience was largely tainted by the fact that I had a much larger, rowdier bunch of classmates than my sister did. However, I chalked it down to religion being unnecessary and constraining, for I was never more miserable than when I was at Hebrew school.
Although the goal of Hebrew school ultimately was to prepare for B'nai Mitzvahs, my synagogue’s program went up through tenth grade, which at that point there was a confirmation ceremony, a graduation of sorts. My mom and uncle both went through confirmation at my synagogue, so one of my few joys at Hebrew school was pointing out my mom’s 80s hair in the confirmation class pictures hanging on the wall. But by the time I got to middle school, I was so disenchanted with religion as a whole that I was quite thrilled when my mom said I could stop going after eighth grade.
My sister, however, did go through confirmation, and at her ceremony, I felt an immense sense of regret. Despite how I felt about Hebrew school, I had put in a lot of time, and if I had just stuck out two more years, I could have at least celebrated the time I had dedicated to my Jewish education and been a part of the family legacy. But then I remembered why I stopped going.
Although I was raised Jewish, only my mom is Jewish, and my peers made me acutely aware of that. I was constantly made to feel not Jewish enough by my Hebrew school peers, and I often felt an immense amount of shame for not attending services regularly and celebrating Christmas with my dad’s family. I also lived in Germany for a few years in elementary school, and my peers accused me of being a Nazi sympathizer and made many Islamophobic comments about the Muslim friends I had made while I was there. Because Hebrew school was the time I was most immersed in Jewish culture, by the time I quit Hebrew school, I basically quit being Jewish. I did not want to be part of a religion that had me feel so bad about myself.
But when I started college, I wanted to be Jewish again. I wanted to find the Jewish community I felt like I didn’t have when I was in grade school. We did talk about a lot of important things in Hebrew school, but I was too angry to care. And then I found Hillel's Jewish Learning Fellowship (JLF). We talked about all the things I ignored in Hebrew school. But for the first time, I felt comfortable talking about Jewish topics, and I felt like I belonged in the conversation. I met so many other college students who were like me and wanted to explore their Judaism further in college. Other participants expressed how they had also felt disconnected from Judaism as kids, and I felt a lot less alone. JLF made me realize there is no right way to be Jewish, and I finally got to have the Hebrew school experience I both wanted and needed as a kid. Had I known JLF was out there, I doubt I would have felt as much regret as I had at my sister’s confirmation. Jewish education does not end at Hebrew school, and I now look forward to continuing on this life-long journey. But most importantly I know there is a place in the Jewish community for me.