Being a Jewish teen: shofar, so good

Me, circa 2003. My thoughts were probably

Photo credit: Amy Wernick

Me, circa 2003. My thoughts were probably "my kippah might look like a beret, but at least I've got a cinnamon challah bigger than me."

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If you’ve ever jumped around in a mob of 13-year-olds singing “I Gotta Feeling” by The Black Eyed Peas, accidentally eaten bacon and had guilt eat you in return, or kvetched with the bubbes at shul, you might be Jewish.

Being Jewish is great. Besides being the official Chosen People, we have so many other things that people should be jealous of.

For example, I get to test out hundreds of new lipstick colors every year from all of the kisses I get from the sisterhood of the traveling prayer shawls. I mean, it’s truly like being a celebrity every time I strut my way into temple, powered-off phone in hand. All I have to do is stand in the main hallway of synagogue before I’m bombarded with adoring fans. They are so sweet to me, and say things like “I have known your grandma since before you were born” or “Wow, someone’s going to be finding herself a nice Jewish boy soon” as they look me up and down to assess how much I’ve changed since they saw me a year ago.

Along with the enormous fan base comes a variety of other Jewish friend groups. Most of the Jewish kids I’ve encountered belong to at least two categories of friends. One category contains the real friends who you talk to, hang out with, and know all about. The other category is the High Holiday friends. High Holiday friends are “friends” you only see those two times a year your parents actually make you go to temple. There is a good chance you went to preschool with them, maybe had a few playdates back in the day, and on the rare occasion have reconnected and follow each other on Instagram. But, for the most part, the conversation will be limited to a subtle nod of acknowledgment of existence. Kind of like a “Hey, glad to see you haven’t died since the last time we were here.”

Similarly, everyone has teachers who you see basically every day and who know you well as a student and as a person. But on those High Holidays, Jewish teens run into the dreaded…old Hebrew teachers. Now, I went to Jewish day school for the first 14 years of my life and never attended Sunday Hebrew school, so my experiences may not be shared by everyone. After middle school, I began school where, shockingly, Hebrew wasn’t a required language — or even an option. Crazy, I know. Knowing Hebrew is another privilege that everyone should be envious of – you are missing out on all of the ways you can tell someone that they are moving too slowly for your liking.

Just try to imagine the panic that I endure every time I see one of my old teachers start to walk towards me with huge smiles on their faces. I rack my brain for any remaining Hebrew words that have stayed with me despite my three-year eivreet drought, and as luck has it, I’m coming up about as dry as the ground the Jews walked on after escaping the Egyptian Pharaoh. I end up just smiling and nodding to questions that were most definitely not just yes or no, and I’m usually lucky enough to get out of there without too much conflict.

Photo by Amy Wernick
I call this one “who the heck took my rugelach??”

Another thing that non-Jews (yes, to us, you are either Jewish or non-Jewish) are bound to envy is the way all of our foods sound like we are trying to clear some nasty gunk out of our throats. What doesn’t sound appealing about a nice plate of kreplach, hamantashen, kasha varnishkes and cholent? If these words don’t sound familiar to you, don’t worry, they don’t to anyone. I cannot tell you how many times my grandma has coughed and then looked at me funny, until I realize that it was not actually a cough, but an obscure Yiddish phrase I was just supposed to know.

So, my haverim, don’t fret if you couldn’t relate to any of this. I’m sure there are many great things about being non-Jewish too, but I really cannot think of anything else I’d rather be.

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