What does it mean to grow up Jewish in South Lake Tahoe? Does it mean you feel like an outsider in an already small, isolated community? Does it mean that you are pitied for not having a tree and presents on Christmas morning? Does it mean that you grow up without a sense of religious identity? Fortunately for me, it meant none of these things, thanks in large part to Temple Bat Yam.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in this incredibly close-knit Jewish community where I always felt safe and secure in my religious identity. True, there were never many other Jewish kids in my school district, which may have been difficult at times. But I always felt that I belonged among my friends and teachers at TBY. My years of attending services and religious school made me confident and knowledgeable about the traditions and customs of Judaism. I became comfortable in my Jewish identity, and have always felt fortunate to be a part of the TBY family.
After high school, I went to the East Coast to attend Colgate University. The religious identity fostered in me by TBY gave me the ability to become an active member of Colgate’s Jewish community. By my junior year, I was the president of the Jewish union on campus. During a time when many of my contemporaries were turning away from their own religious identities, I had never felt more secure and empowered in mine. I attribute this to TBY. Unlike the experiences of many of my college cohorts, my religious upbringing was never oppressive. It was never forced upon me, and it never felt like a burden. TBY was always a positive, encouraging, and stimulating environment filled with good friends and compassionate teachers.
Temple Bat Yam has grown by leaps and bounds over the years, and it has been a joy to watch this growth unfold. I now live in an area of Southern California that supports a much larger Jewish population than the one in South Lake Tahoe. Despite the greater Jewish presence in these larger cities, there was something about growing up in the small-but-mighty TBY family that I don’t think I will ever be able to find elsewhere. I only hope to attempt to recreate the experiences I had growing up as a member of this community for my own family, wherever life takes me.