One of my main goals as a shlicha and a religious school teacher is to help the kids in my classes to be publicly proud of being Jewish. I did not come to Utah with this goal in mind, but it came to me because of the kids and young adults I’ve met and spoken to since I’ve been here. Many would not say proudly that they were Jewish, and I found that very strange. For me, a young Israeli adult who everyone knew was Jewish before I met them, it was hard for me to understand why they weren’t proud to be Jewish. Where I’m from, it’s really cool to be Jewish! I thought about my home and school and thought about the stories my students told me of their experiences in schools. The public comments said here in Utah this past weekend from two elected officials, comparing ‘wearing masks to Nazi’s following Hitler’s orders during the Holocaust’ were very surprising to me because that would not have happened in Israel.
I grew up in Israel understanding the need to fight for what we believe, to stand up for our rights, and to know the importance of education. So much of the history of Israel has been shaped by war because of people who hate and disrespect Jews. We know that because of this hate, we cannot keep silent and sometimes must fight for rights and freedoms. I do not suggest that war and fighting is always the right way. But here in Utah, I see being prideful, knowing where you come from and how awesome it is to be Jewish, is a way of fighting for your rights. I want my students to grow up with this attitude and be able to project it in everything they do.
My time here in Utah has been great. I find when I tell people that I’m from Israel and that I’m Jewish, it only brings good responses. This week someone knocked on my door – which is a pretty rare thing to happen these days – and there stands my neighbor. She’s an elderly LDS woman, who has lived in Utah all her life. She’s a really nice neighbor and she was standing there with tears in her eyes, and she says to me, (referring to the hateful comments from the two elected officials last weekend) “I have read the news and this is NOT what Utah is about. Utah does not feel this way about Jews. It’s a terrible thing they said, and I can’t imagine how you’re feeling. She went on to say, “please tell all your Jewish friends, this is not what Utah is like.” Trust me, if it wasn’t for the Coronavirus, I would have hugged her. She was so sweet, and it made me feel so good. It also made me think that there are others who stand in Utah with us. There are people in Utah that believe in making connections and wanting to understand. I also think the Jewish way of love and good deeds is shared outside of the Jewish people here in Utah.
So, whether it is my students, my friends, or those I meet, I feel I must do my part to let them know about my culture, as they should let me know about theirs. We all should be proud of where we come in a way that us live side by side in peace and harmony.