What it Means to be Jewish: Rachel Marek '17

This is the fourth in a series of reflections on Judaism from current Princeton students. They were originally given as sermons during Yom Kippur services.


What does it mean to me to be a Jew?

This was a very challenging question for me to answer. Being Jewish means a lot to me. And I can think of many reasons why but I had trouble answering the initial questions of what it means to me to be Jewish. But through all the reasons of why being Jewish is important to me one message continued to make its way through. To me, being Jewish is about being a part of something larger than myself, it’s about being a part of something that has lasted throughout time and spans across the globe.

I tend to feel the connection to the Jewish community in a few different ways. For example, for me, one of the most amazing and spiritual aspects of Shabbat is the fact that all around the world, the Jewish people are doing similar things as I am no matter where I am. While I’m celebrating Shabbat with my family or my community here at Princeton, across the globe, we are singing similar songs to welcome in Shabbat and we are gathering with our families for Shabbat dinner.

And even while traveling abroad we often find ourselves in familiar places through the Jewish community. Being a part of a community that spans the globe, means that you can find always find a place to celebrate Shabbat. I spent the summer before my Junior year working as an architecture intern in Tel Aviv. While being in Israel for 10 weeks, I had the chance to spend and celebrate Shabbat many different ways. Some weeks, I would go to the beit kinesset ha gadol of Tel Aviv. Songs of Kabalat Shabbat would fill the air. One week was spent on a Shabbaton in Beit She’an, my hometown of Cleveland’s sister city. But one of the most amazing experiences I had while in Israel, was spending a Shabbat in Jerusalem. I knew that before I left Israel I wanted to spend Shabbat in Jerusalem. It’s the holy city. No matter where we are in the world as Jewish people, we pray towards Jerusalem. I wanted to spend 1 of 10 weekends in Jerusalem, and pray on Friday night at the Kotel. However, one problem was, I didn’t know where I was going to stay. So I reached out to one of the Princeton Rabbis, asking if he knew anyone that would be able to host me in Jerusalem for Shabbat. Lo and behold, within minutes a Princeton alum living in Jerusalem agreed to host me for Shabbat. Now in Israel, two of my Jewish communities blended together, The global community, and the Princeton Jewish Community. In Jerusalem, we went to the Kotel for Kabbalat Shabbat and then ran back to their home for an amazing Friday Night dinner. My hosts had many people over for Shabbat dinner. The night was spent talking about so many things: life, torah, and more. Conversations flipped from English to Hebrew and the drop of a dime. And it was amazing for me to see how a group of strangers who didn’t necessarily all know each other when they walked through the door, were able to have such an amazing time and celebration of Shabbat.

Now, not only as the Jewish people are we a part of this community who can celebrate and be one with each other, but also we are a community who supports each other. Growing up in a Jewish family has taught me to live with Jewish values. I learned about Tikkun Olam and how we are to treat others, and how we help one another out. One of my greatest role models in life, is my Grandfather. He was able to teach me what it means to help support and be an active member of the Jewish community. He helped lead the Hillel organization in Cleveland and was a part of so many different boards, my family could hardly keep track. But my grandpa and all his work inspired me, that for as much as the Jewish community gives to me, I also have to give back to it. For example, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, has helped me go on three different amazing trips to Israel, where I learned about a place that has become so important to me. I now try to pass on these experiences by supporting the organization that helped to send me there. As part of the Jewish community, we also must support each other when things aren’t going our way. To me, being a Jew means that I’m there for my communities to help each other. When we get knocked down, whether it’s from being stressed from school, or a hurtful comment, or just we’re just generally feeling down, we have to remember that we’re all part of something that brings us all together.