If it takes a village to raise a child, then Temple Bat Yam is the village responsible for raising me. As a boisterous young ball of boundless energy, my friends and family at Temple Bat Yam accepted me for exactly who I am and nurtured me into the woman I am today.
Growing up in South Lake Tahoe as a Jew meant I was different. When my classmates were counting down the days until they could rip open the paper on their Christmas gifts, I was indulging in eight nights of non-stop dreidle battles, lighting the menorah and eating countless fried latkes. When other children were feasting on Easter eggs and marshmallow Peeps, I was keeping kosher for Passover. While my 13-year-old counterparts were spending their summer as carefree youth, I spent those days preparing for my Bat Mitzvah. Instead of sports camp in the summer, I went to Jewish camp. And when I felt out of place and alone at school, my friends at Temple Bat Yam made sure I knew where I belonged.
I spent many Shabbat mornings of my youth at temple, learning prayers and making art projects that taught me about my heritage. Here, I had a support system of teachers and parents who cared about what I was up to, and how I was doing in school. I learned my Hebrew letters from Charna and how to make Jewish food from Alexis. I learned about the history of my own family through my mother, who was also one of my teachers at Temple Bat Yam. I was guided through the Torah by Allen. I was given advice by Wayne. They all listened to me while I bounced up and down, never getting dizzy or complaining about my rambunctiousness. They gave me rides when I needed it, sometimes to far away destinations like Sacramento and Los Angeles. They checked up on me when my parents went out of town for the weekend. They cared about me, like they cared for their own children. I didn’t know it at the time, but they understood my feeling of being different and I could tell they understood me. The other children who went to Temple with me became my closest friends. Many of them are still in my life. We visit each other in our new hometowns, we make a point of visiting when we are home, and we keep up with each other on Facebook. They are as much my brothers and sisters as they are my friends.
As an adult, I work with the youth in my congregation in Roseville. I oversee teen programming and create a space for the kids of my community to feel included. I teach them the values and stories that were passed down to me. I urge them to get involved in social change projects, and I encourage them to support Israel. I listen to middle schoolers who are being teased and offer a shoulder to high schoolers who didn’t get the part they wanted in the school play. I give them rides when they need it, and I stay up until 2 a.m. with them, never complaining of their rambunctiousness. I strive to be like the people at Temple Bat Yam who shaped me into the person I am today. I think they did a pretty good job.