Every Friday night, I would eat Shabbat dinner with my family. And every Saturday morning, we would arrive at our temple ‘fashionably’ late –– before the Rabbi’s sermon but after the start of the Haftarah. Always on PST: ‘Persian Standard Time.’ Despite our tardiness, the tradition, music, and values of these weekly rituals cultivated my Jewish identity. Attending the same services with the same people each week and sitting in those unmistakable brown wooden pews, I adopted a meaningful sense of community. My spiritual connection is not only particular to my synogogue’s congregation; it expands beyond to Jews worldwide, transcending all boundaries and all demographics. I feel a sense of familiarity and warmness in new Jewish communities. Through Judaism, I’ve found a family and a home.
Yet, as I grew older and other obligations arose, I spent increasingly less time at my synagogue. I started going to synagogue just once a month, until I became so busy with school work that I only attended for High Holidays and the occasional Saturday. While the Friday night family dinners never stopped, I missed the spiritual calmness of communal prayer at my Temple. The occasional Saturdays that I did attend services always surrounded me with a sense of serenity and enlightenment.
Feeling isolated during the pandemic, I decided to expand my Jewish experiences at UCLA. I signed up for a seminar with the Jewish Learning Fellowship (JLF) called “Life’s Big Questions” in which students examined Judaism in relation to different aspects of their lives. I also became involved at the UCLA Hillel and I attend their Friday Shabbat services whenever I can. Acameically, I found a opportunity to learn more about Judaism through German 59: Holocaust through Film and Literature taught by Professor Presner. While the material is very intense, I understand the importance of learning about these atrocities, and the discussion is always so thought-provoking. The professor is amazing at handling such difficult material, and the students really have expanded my knowledge, allowing me to see new perspectives. Through these Jewish spaces, I experienced a similar sense of serenity and enlightenment.
Overall, these experiences have given me the opportunity to learn more about myself and the great significance of what it means to be Jewish. The immense depth of Jewish history is overwhelming. But I also feel proud to be part of an enduring, millennia-old tradition. Our traditions endure through great adversity because of the connections between Jews not only our spirituality but through our communities. And this longevity demonstrates that Judaism is profound and meaningful and really has something worth staying for. The community I found is a bright spark of that special and eternal Jewish light. Although Zoom does not provide the same feeling as being within Jewish communities, involving myself within Jewish circles at UCLA has provided a similar feeling of connection, helping me integrate into the new UCLA community while strengthening my Jewish identity.