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How I burst the Jewish bubble

November 24, 2016 23:11

Jewish teenagers often live in a bubble, according to the Chief Rabbi. I certainly was, this time last year. But, while all my friends went off to perhaps the ultimate "Jewniversity", all to be living in the same halls and some even in the same apartment together, I moved to a city in which the Jewish population was minuscule.

This was something I'd considered when applying to university and in fact I chose Durham partly because of, rather than in spite of the lack of Jews. Having grown up, first in Israel and then at a Jewish school, everybody and everything I knew was within the Jewish community; yes, the Jewish bubble. And I was so ready to burst out of it.

I knew there was so much more to life than barmitzvahs and Jewish princesses and Friday- night dinners and I wanted, so desperately, to experience for myself what was out there. Judaism wasn't a big part of my life, so why should I have been at all afraid to lose it?

The first week was plain sailing; in between excessive drinking and obscene hangovers, there was little time for contemplative thought. After a single visit to the JSoc to please my parents, I didn't think much more of it.

On my sixth day at Durham, my family called me. As I was half-listening to the conversation, half concentrating on not blinding myself with my mascara wand as I got ready to go out, my parents wished me a Shabbat Shalom - I hadn't even realised it was Friday.

My Magen David offended some of my peers

We aren't religious, but, beyond the physical rituals, I thought that something internal would be activated within me. But I had completely forgotten it. I was left shaken, questioning everything about the strength of my identity, my roots. Who was I?

In the blink of an eye Chanucah arrived. Presents were sent via post - eight of them, one for each night, as is tradition in our house - and doughnuts were bought from Tesco, hardly homemade sufganiyot, but they would do. My friends joined me in my private celebrations one night but, still, I felt more alone than ever.

My Judaism suddenly felt like oxygen; something I hadn't even thought about, let alone realised its importance in my life, until it was taken away from me.

My first serious boyfriend, with whom I had entered a relationship without even a thought to my religion, or his lack thereof, seemed to visualise a future vastly different to the one I wanted. Chuppah, brit milah, barmitzvah; life events I took for granted, to him were not only foreign, but undesirable. It was upon the end of this relationship that I realised perhaps one of the most important lessons of being the only metaphorical Jewish sheep in a herd of outsiders.

To me, the Jewish community always felt so small, so suffocating and claustrophobic. It felt like everybody knew everything about everyone. While this is true, it is not unique to the Jewish community. Humans are curious creatures; whether it is the Jewish community or the Durham University community, an inherent trait that binds them is the need to know what is going on in the lives of those around them.

It took my leaving the Jewish community to realise that maybe it isn't so bad after all.

Added to this crisis of identity was the sudden need to defend everything I knew and believed in. Attending one of the top universities in the UK, I had assumed that my peers would be educated enough on the Israel-Palestine conflict to at least have a balanced view, even if not one in complete agreement with mine.

This perception proved optimistic. While the majority of people I met were open-minded, there were people whose views were more consistent with what I regard as fanatical extremism, views that I had thought were left behind in Nazi Germany. I wore my Magen David necklace, the only outward sign of my Judaism, as I have done consistently since my 12th birthday - not necessarily with conscious pride, but without a second thought, after seven years I barely even remembered it was there. Its presence seemed to offend some of my peers, whose own opinions were so loud that they drowned out any possibility of logical reasoning.

I realised the steep incline of the uphill struggle ahead of me, and I felt overwhelmed. I came to realise, however, that the challenge presented to me was a privilege, an honour. If I am the first real-life Jew and an Israeli that my peers had ever met, then I had a chance of reshaping their views.

Every person who tells me they have realised that Israel isn't actually an apartheid terrorist state because of our conversation, makes all the moments of frustration and loneliness feel worth it.

Ellie Hyman was the winner if the JCs student blogger competition and will be writing a regular blog. go to thejc.com/studentviews

November 24, 2016 23:11

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