The author in Israel. Photos courtesy of Sam Siegel.

The Necklace Connection

Why my Star of David necklace represents tradition.

Draped down my neck lies a very prized possession. It glimmers and sparkles and is a part of me. My Star of David necklace is extraordinary; it represents my identity and is something that I will hold onto forever.

My desire to get a necklace came as a surprise to my parents. I guess I did not strike my parents as the type that had fashion preferences or aspirations to own jewelry. Growing up I was simple, all I cared about were sports and video games. 

Yet, thanks to my grandfather, I longed to have this necklace in my possession. I have always had a unique, special bond with my grandpa, my poppy. Our personalities have meshed together for as long as I can remember, even sharing a deep passion for the New York Giants. I admire my grandpa for who he is, and my parents have always said that I take after him, especially with our shared stubbornness for everything. I see qualities and traits in my grandpa that I aspire to possess as an adult. He has a zest for life, an optimistic outlook in all circumstances, a sense of humor and a persistent work ethic. Nevertheless, my grandpa wears a necklace, embracing his Jewish identity. 

In fact, my first awareness of my Jewish identity came when I noticed him wearing it. One beautiful summer day, when I was about four years old, we went swimming.  As we waded out into the pool, I noticed the shiny, bold necklace draped down his chest. 

“What is that thing hanging from your neck, Poppy?” He then explained to me the story behind his Jewish necklace, also known as a Chai. I wanted to be just like him; I decided I would also get a similar necklace for that reason. My grandpa is proud to be Jewish and wears his necklace at all times. I wanted to carry on the family tradition, and I knew that when the time eventually came, I would get the perfect necklace.

The summer of 2015 was devastating for me, to say the least. I had been looking forward to a once in a lifetime trip to Israel to celebrate the bar mitzvah of my older cousin, but due to the Arab-Israeli conflict in the region, we had to cancel. As a result, his ceremony had to be moved locally, and despite not spending it in a holy place like Israel, my disappointment turned into an unforgettable experience. Would we have to cancel mine the following year too?  

I did not know how long it would be until I would be able to embark on this journey to Israel with the prolonged turmoil in the Middle East. With my bar mitzvah approaching rapidly, I envisioned spending it in a special place like Israel. As I perfected my Torah portion, I simultaneously tracked the situation in the Middle East. Nonetheless, I practically became the travel agent for my family, eager to visit the “holy land.” At that time, it meant a lot to me to see the wonders of this magical place before becoming a Jewish adult.

With the time ticking on this potential adventure to Israel, I was overjoyed when I was told that this would become a reality. I was finally going.

Once in Israel, the days went by rapidly. To be completely honest, I did not expect to find interest in the historical aspects of the trip including visiting museums on a daily basis. On the contrary, I felt immersed in the trip and everything I took from it. It was a trip where I created memories with family that would live with me forever. I learned about my origins and the history of my ancestors.

I developed a deep affection for this beautiful place. I decided on one thing: I had to find a way to engrave the trip into my mind so that it would never be forgotten. That’s when the thought came to me. After becoming a Jewish man and carrying on the tradition once set by my grandpa, I thought it would be meaningful to get an iconic Star of David necklace — in Israel. I kept on the lookout throughout the trip for the perfect, shiny necklace, but to be completely honest there was always a drawback. “It’s too expensive,” moaned my mother, “You have no sense of fashion,” my sister squealed.

I will always remember Tzfat, a small city in the Northern District of Israel. The city was energetic; it had a positive vibe in the air and every street corner smelled like powdered donuts. We explored the city, until I noticed a small jewelry store. That was the store. A silver necklace in the back of the store particularly caught my eye. After getting the nod of approval from my parents, I was out the door of the store with the necklace locked onto my neck. For the remainder of the trip, my new necklace was glued to me.

To this day, I still wear my necklace. I wore the Star of David during my sacred bar mitzvah service, as well as at my sister’s bat mitzvah service. It serves as a constant reminder of my roots and my religious identity. It connects me to my relatives. It defines me. It goes with me everywhere and anywhere. And last, but certainly not least, my life-changing trip to Israel lives within that shiny, sparkly, silver star.

My extraordinary necklace connects me with my relatives, yet it also differentiates me from them. While the necklaces all tie back to our values and religious morals, I was the first relative of my family to wear a Star of David necklace. Someday when I have kids, I want this tradition to live on. Above all, my Star of David necklace makes me the person that I am today.

Samuel Siegel is a sophomore at Scarsdale High School.

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