My peers and I are at a time in our lives that is pivotal in forming our identities and value systems. It is a very crucial period where the experiences we choose to take part in (or not take part in), the people we choose to date or associate ourselves with, and the courses we take in university hold an extraordinary influence on our present and future selves.
I believe that one’s university career and early young professional life carry the potential to make or break one’s Jewish identity and pride. I witness it regularly in my circle of friends. Some from very secular, unaffiliated backgrounds with minimal Jewish education come to university, find Jewish student organizations such as Hillel Ottawa or the Chabad Student Network that make them feel a part of something larger and important, and take Judaism to the extreme.
I have other friends who have been in the Jewish day school system their entire lives but are too embarrassed or stubborn to attend any Jewish student or young professional events much less publicly showcase their attendance via a Facebook RSVP. God forbid someone sees that you clicked to attend a Shabbat dinner. How uncomfortable would that be?
I have friends who, unfortunately, have had less than ideal experiences dating Jewish boys and now exclusively seek a partner who is not Jewish. But, of course, I also have many like-minded friends with well-rounded perceptions of Judaism who adopt their own methods in preserving it in their daily lives.
I continue to form my Jewish identity every day; my friends and those around me constantly contributing to how I prioritize my faith.
Even though we may have been brought up in the Jewish day school system, attended Jewish summer camps, regularly celebrate Shabbat and Jewish holidays, many of us young Jews require a moment when things click for us and our Jewish identity suddenly becomes important. This moment could stem from the March of the Living, going away for school to a city with few Jews, having an anti-Semitic professor, the list goes on.
Though this column may at times suggest otherwise, those who know me know that I am not some religious preacher constantly advocating to others to never stray from the Jewish path. To me, Judaism is a very abstract concept. It’s not black and white. I have been raised by wonderful parents who taught me “not to judge Judaism by the Jew.” Many adapt their own practices and traditions within the religion and prioritize what’s most important to them. They pick and choose which rules apply to their lives and how they feel they could best practise Judaism and keep it as an integral part of their identities.
At first glance, I would definitely come across as a secular and very mainstream society person. There isn’t much about the way I dress or the things I do that would cause a stranger to assume that I am Jewish. I am an assimilated person in many aspects of my life. However, I also recognize that I was lucky enough to have been born into this incredible faith, culture and nationality that is Judaism.
While, admittedly, I am very much assimilated, I am also aware of my roots and heritage and what I must do to preserve my faith. So, no, I may not keep every Jewish law and I definitely march to the beat of my own colourful Jewish drum, but I have managed to prioritize a few customs and laws into my daily life that I plan to keep. This column, for example, has contributed to my Jewish identity, affording me the opportunity to reflect and write about what it means to me to be a Jewish student on campus. Hillel Ottawa, the Chabad Student Network and the Emerging Generation division of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa also contribute to keeping me grounded by hosting many cultural, religious and social events that strengthen my Jewish identity.
To my fellow students: Take this time in your life to really reflect on who you are and which values hold the highest importance to you. Write an article, attend an event, date a Jewish boy or girl, or whatever else best helps you connect!