Throughout my life, Judaism has always played an incredible role in making me who I am today, despite growing up with hardly any Jews around me outside of synagogue or Jewish day school. I live in Virginia Beach, Virginia and despite being a city of over 450,000 people there is one Jewish school that only goes through 5th grade, and only about 5 synagogues in the area including Norfolk, which contains close to 700,000 residents.
Beginning at the age of 2, I began attending the Hebrew Academy of Tidewater, which is the only Jewish school in the area. I constantly surrounded by other Jewish kids, attended Judaic studies classes, and everything else a normal kid would do who attended a Jewish school. I really knew nothing else outside of this life so when I began attending a public middle school it was truly a shocking find out that I was the only Jewish kid in my grade, but I was one of only two Jewish kids in the school! I had never lived like this before and it was hard being the only kid missing school for the high holidays, or being the only one eating matzah for lunch during Passover. As I progressed through middle school, I became more used to being the only Jewish kid especially as my friends became more supportive, and those are the same friends I have to this day. I still missed the Jewish connection more than anything and began to worry I would unintentionally lose my identity sooner or later.
But this all changed when I joined BBYO.
From the second I attended my first program as an 8th grader I was hooked and my drive to embrace and love Judaism was back more than it ever had been. Suddenly I began discovering that although there were only a few, there were more Jews in my area than I had thought! Seeing them every weekend reminded me that I was not alone when I had to miss school or having to eat Matzah and I began to realize that this is what made me unique and great. Judaism was not a pain that made me separate from others, it was what made me different and connected me to others around the world.
Even with living in an area with very few Jewish friends, BBYO gave me the realization that you are never alone no matter where you are. Through BBYO I have made some of the greatest friends in the world, whether they live 10 or 1000 miles away and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Being one of the only Jews in my area has given me even more courage and strength to carry out my beliefs and customs and I encourage others in a similar situation to do the same.
Danial Watts is an Aleph from Dr. Israel Brown AZA #256 in Eastern Region: Virginia Council.
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