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Labels are for Food

I finally realized I don’t have to label my Jewishness.

My whole life, I have been taught to think outside the box, but when it comes to Judaism, I am asked to put myself into one. Coming from a diverse family background, I struggled to determine what denomination I stand with and belong to. My father’s family is strictly Orthodox, while my mother’s ranges from Reform to Conservative. I have always found myself at a weird crossroads, falling somewhere in between. I felt a deep appreciation for my Jewish values, yet I couldn’t decide where I stood on the “religious” scale. This struggle to label myself as one type of Jew often held me back in my learning. That is, until recently, when I decided to come out as “just a Jew.” I have chosen to practice in a way that will bring me to my strongest connection to G-D.  The titles we are often told to place on others and ourselves are the biggest challenge the Jewish world is facing because it creates division in our community. 

To the outside world, a Jew is a Jew. Anti-Semites do not discriminate between types of Jews. So why do we discriminate amongst ourselves? It is natural for people to connect with those most similar to us. The need for affiliation and to fit in is instilled in every person. However, the exclusion and judgment from all sectors of Judaism contradicts core Jewish values. We cannot forget to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” If Jews as a whole would follow this, we would be able to put up a much stronger front and combat anti-Semitism together. If Jews stay within our own bubbles and never get exposed to other communities, we will reach a point of stagnation, which is toxic to all of us.

Every year, when we read the Purim Megillah, we are reminded of what separation does to the Jews. Haman said to Achashverosh, “Yeshno am echadmefuzar umeforad” — there is one nation scattered and separated. In Shushan, the Jewish community was in a chronic state of internal conflict. Esther, as the hero, recognized the need for unity and instructed that all Jews come together to fast. It is sad to see that thousands of years later the Jews are still separated amongst ourselves.

I have learned this lesson from my own experiences. Before entering high school, I judged others who didn’t practice like me. I felt that those more religious than me were weird and those less religious weren’t true Jews. Looking back, I see how flawed my thinking was. As I entered high school, my view of the world became more diverse. I have realized that there is no more or less religious Jew. Every person is on their own journey and should practice in a way that best suits their needs. The desire to squeeze into a label that doesn’t fit is something that must be put to an end. As I observe the Jewish community around me, I believe it is important for us to put the labels aside and unite as one nation: the Jewish People. 

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Sonya Kest is senior at YULA Girls High School in Los Angeles. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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