Jewish Community Relations Councilof San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties

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Finding the Judaism for Me

July 29, 2015
Posted by: Isaac Kort-Meade, Summer Intern

When I first arrived in Eugene to attend the University of Oregon in the fall of 2013, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I would major in Political Science, go on to be involved in politics, and continue my Jewish experience in Hillel. It felt clear and easy. But after attending a Shabbat dinner freshman year and High Holy days my sophomore year, I knew that wasn’t the Judaism for me. Just as I changed my major a few times (finally deciding on city planning and economics), I’ve reexamined my Judaism and landed somewhere I never really expected.

I grew up in Santa Rosa, California, attended Hebrew school, had my Bar Mitzvah, and joined the temple youth group when I was old enough. I attended camp from a young age, starting with Camp Chai (the Sonoma JCC day camp) and later moving to Camp Newman (the URJ sleepaway camp). And in high school I returned to Camp Chai to be a counselor. My parents are intermarried, my mom Jewish and my dad a member of a 12-child Irish Catholic family, and I loved being part of the Jewish community. I was usually the only Jew my friends knew, and my mom would come into my elementary school classes and teach about Chanukah. But I never really questioned my religion until 8th grade, when one of my rabbis told me that not believing in God was okay, and that I could figure out my own path through my Judaism.

From that moment my Judaism changed. I began to question my religion and the world, and I saw everything in a different light. I’ve always loved going to services and saying the prayers, but my connection to my Jewish identity has since then been in the community rather than the religion.

I assumed college would bring me straight into Hillel and the (small) Jewish community in Oregon. But my experience of Hillel was as an extension of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity on campus (this is not to say anything bad about the Greek community, it just isn’t my scene). It wasn’t just the people, however; it was more than that. Since I started college, I’ve done two different Jewish internship programs -- one in Washington, DC, and another here at the JCRC. I also went to Israel on Birthright last December, and it was a very different experience from my first time there with the Diller Teen Fellows in high school. I met Jews who were much more religious than I, and some who had their first experience with their heritage in the holy land. My experiences have made me realize how much diversity there is within the Jewish community, and that understanding has empowered me to think that my expression of my religion can be my own.

Now, my Judaism is tikkun olam and tzedakah, rather than services. I never want to be outside of the Jewish community, because it has done so much good for me and formed me in so many ways, but I am taking that connection I forged at the synagogue and in summer camp out into the world. This transformation has led to my interest in interning at the JCRC, where I can take my Jewish values and understanding and apply it to real-world situations, and do my best to help people.

A lot has changed since I went off to college. I’ve changed my plans, my aspirations, my attitude, and my diet. But nothing has changed more than my Judaism. As a lot of people do during these years, I have found my path and my identity. This has been a similar experience to many of my friends, both Jewish and not. In a sense, that’s what college is for: discovering yourself and what is most important to you. Wherever I end up in life, I know my Jewish identity will follow, but it’s a very different identity than that I had at my Bar Mitzvah.

PHOTO: University of Oregon, Eugene (courtesy of Akiva)