By Ramona L. Brand, Director of Youth Learning
Wisdom from our Confirmands
A beautiful Confirmation ceremony was held at Temple Beth-El on Sunday, June 5. With family and friends in attendance our Confirmands pledged to uphold Jewish tradition and shared their reflections and wisdom with the congregation.
Their words are thoughtful, insightful and inspirational and we feel that our Jewish future is in good hands with young adults like these.
The following remarks are from the Confirmands.
Welcome and Chag Sameach! Thank you for allowing me to speak to you today about my views on Judaism. I proudly identify as Jewish. I grew up in a Jewish household with Jewish parents, I have observed Jewish holidays since I was born, and I celebrated my Bat Mitzvah at the age of 13. Although these are all common things that Jewish people do, I do not believe that they are the defining factors that make someone Jewish. I believe that being Jewish is defined by something deeper.
For one, it means truly understanding the words of the Torah and religious prayers, and living by those ideals to benefit myself and the rest of the community.
For a while, I used to sing Modeh Ani every morning to myself when I woke up. In Hebrew School, I had been told that you should do this, however, I did not do this because I was told I should do it to be considered a “good” Jew. I sang Modeh Ani every morning because the words of the prayer are so powerful:
I thank You, living and enduring Sovereign, for You have graciously returned my soul within me. Great is Your faithfulness.”
Reciting this prayer every morning as I woke up required me to thank God for allowing me to see another day. As human beings, we tend to take things for granted. However, reciting Modeh Ani reminded me, even at such a young age, that I should not take anything for granted. The simple fact that I am able to wake up everyday, eager to learn more about my religion, is itself a blessing.
While learning more about Judaism in and outside of Hebrew School, I have learned about various times in Jewish history when Jewish people were extremely lucky to wake up the next morning. Some of these include when the Jewish people had to escape Egypt and Pharoah’s rule, and the Holocaust.
Furthermore, today marks the Jewish holiday, Shavuot. Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Israelites on Mount Sinai after the exodus from Egypt (now known as Passover). There was no guarantee that the Jews would survive the Exodus. However, they persevered, and we are now able to learn lessons from the Torah that they received.
I recently saw the Broadway musical, Come From Away. It is about people who were diverted to Gander, Newfoundland, during the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001. There is one song in particular from this musical that resonated with me. It is called “Prayer”. In the song, various religions and cultures come together to pray for safety and express their hope that they will make it back home.
There is a segment of the song where “Oseh Shalom” is sung. Afterward, a Polish Rabbi talks about how as a child, he was told he could never tell people he was Jewish for his own safety. Over history, people had shown such hatred toward the Jewish community, however Jewish people have overcome obstacles and formed close-knit communities that have a shared awareness and understanding of the hatred faced in similar groups. The ability to overcome obstacles is another way that Jewish people embody the words of the Torah and the resilience of our ancestors. As I continue with my journey in the Jewish world, I will grow my Jewish identity by working for what I believe is right, and overcoming challenges as my ancestors did.
Currently, I am N’siah, or president, of Richmond’s BBYO (B’nai B’rith Youth Organization) chapter. This role has given me the opportunity to educate fellow Jewish teens about what it means to be Jewish and how to appreciate the siblinghood that is formed by this unifying religion. BBYO has helped me embrace being Jewish, as it has given me a community of people that I can relate to. Although my term as president is coming to an end next week, I will continue to support this youth community throughout the rest of my high school years.
As I grow, and my Jewish identity continues to develop, I will continuously support the Jewish community, as it has shaped me.
I will continue to learn all I can, and I will inquire and question things that I am curious about. Most importantly, I will never take anything for granted.
(Ally is pictured above with some students.)
I couldn’t ever hope to create a speech or sermon even half as wise as what our Rabbi could create, but I don’t need to bring forward that level of wisdom.
All I need to do is express my beliefs in a way people can understand, because understanding others is undoubtedly the best way to get a better view of the world around us, and I believe understanding others is one of the most important Jewish values that we hold dear.
I don’t believe in a god or a higher power. I hope that doesn’t offend anybody here, but I shall let that bother you and not me, because people in this world share vastly different views, and
I invite you to accept those views with open arms like I have learned to do. You could consider me an eccentric atheist that watches Newton gravitate down the chimney to deliver me a present on sciencemas eve, and I can accept that. Likewise, I accept any sort of belief in higher power, and I recognize why and where that belief comes from, and why it exists and is so important to a lot of people. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it.
But back to the point, Judaism to me is more about the ideology and principles that the Jewish people use when it comes to interacting with others and accepting the world around us. Humans naturally judge others based on a million different factors, but the trick to shutting down these biases is recognizing them within yourself. What if we were not just part of a Jewish community, but part of a worldly community, and I hope I am right in saying that accepting others for who they are is not a hard task for all of us here today.
What if we invited others from different religions and cultures to join us in our traditionally Jewish activities and holidays, more so than we may have done in the past. Let others enjoy what we have to offer, and come to understand others and see their point of view. Most of us have probably been to a Christmas party or event once or twice, and I would love it if we could push for the same thing regarding Jewish events.
A great and leading example of this coming together is the Weinstein JCC, where less than a third of the members are actually Jewish.
We can view that low number as a great thing, and be proud that a place servicing Jewish events is able to be open to everyone. Before the pandemic, when my family had Seders we invited friends and family, Jewish and non-Jewish. Those interactions allowed me to understand our Buddhist and Christian friends, and I got the sense that they were able to understand the ideology of Judaism better as well.
Recently, there were a couple of guests nice enough to speak at the Sunday School, and a very important point was brought up regarding just the Jewish community within itself. The speakers were all Jews that were from different ethnicities than what traditional Ashkenazi Jews tend to be. They brought up how they are initially somewhat questioned about being Jewish when they meet new people, and I do not wish for that to be the case any longer.
Anybody from any race is welcome in our Jewish community, and are no different than the majority of us. I am sure they are treated well after they are initially questioned, but that cognitive dissonance from different races being Jewish needs to go away, because I don’t want anybody to feel ostracized or uncomfortable about that. It would mean a lot for me if you kept that in the back of your head going forward. I just feel like I need to bring attention to that, because the only way to fix it is to make the issue known
Jewish practice to me is the practice of being nice and welcoming. Me speaking out to you all like this is something well out of my comfort zone. I am naturally socially anxious, but nobody really wants to or needs to hear about my own personal issues. I may not be making huge strides as to making a super positive impact on the world, but what I can do is be as nice as possible to the people around me.
My greatest role model is my dad, always incredibly nice to people, and it is hard to find somebody who has any issues with him. The only person I can think of is the person that was apparently trying to sleep at 5:30 in the evening when my dad lit off some fireworks. He goes way out of his way to do things for others, and I hope I am able to get as close as possible to his behavior in the future. Judaism plays a role in how I behave and how I partake in mitzvot. My mind actively fears ever having somebody mad at me, so I somewhat instinctually try to be nice to people or at least try to maintain a neutral position in their head. I don’t particularly pay attention to the layers of mitzvot or try to contribute to a bigger cause. I stay in my own sphere and try to help the people around me instead. Just coming up here and speaking is an example because I don’t want my baseless fears of being ridiculed for not giving a speech at my confirmation to haunt me.
Let me not try to push myself as some kind of saint, I’m only human after all. Even at a young age I have done and said countless things in the past that I deeply regret, and all I can do is to try and be better moving forward. Time and time again I have been regrettably unkind, thankfully those events are happening less often as I mature.
The last thing I would like to say is that like most other people, I enjoy good food. I selfishly propose we should serve more hot food at Jewish gatherings, just not a fan of cold food as a personal preference.
Thank you for listening to me and hopefully trying to understand me. Understanding the youth around you is selfishly something I find important, but the notion can be supported by the necessity to understand everyone around you. I would leave you with some Hebrew phrase saying thanks, but in the spirit of inclusion and diversity I will leave you with a simple Muchas Gracias.
Religious School Registration is open for the 2022-2023 School year
To register visit https://www.bethelrichmond.org/school_enrollment.php
New registration? Interested in a school tour? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Summer Family Shabbat and Playgroup Events
Stay connected with your Religious School friends through the summer! We’ll pray and play together over the next few months. Open to the entire community!
Shabbat Under the Stars: Family Friendly Shabbat Service
Dates: Friday, Aug. 12
Time: 5:30 p.m. arrival, service begins at 6 p.m. Location: Selma and Jacob Brown Religious School, 601 N. Parham Road
Enjoy a relaxed and musical Shabbat service. Bring a picnic dinner, blanket or lawn chairs. Indoors if rain.
Young Family Splash and Play
Dates: July 17 / Aug. 21 Time: 10 a.m. – noon
Locations: July 17: Twin Hickory Splash Pad /5011 Twin Hickory Road, Glen Allen, 23059; Aug. 21: SOAR Park365 /3600 Saunders Ave., Richmond, 23227
Join us for a fun morning of friends and fun. Socialize with other young families while the kids play.
Beth-El Religious School is Hiring!
We are seeking teachers for Sunday and Wednesday Religious School. Positions are available for a variety of age groups; for Hebrew and Judaics, in-person and online teaching.
If you would like to be a part of our dynamic team, for the 2022-2023 academic year, email Ramona at email@example.com.
Pictured are students enjoying some “last day of Religious School” games and activities.