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Impact Fellowship Blog
Stephen Muss (Miami)

The chagim are sources of great happiness and help us as Jews to reflect on how we are each the continuation of the story of a great people.

Jewish holidays are central to the Jewish identity’s of many non-religious Jews. The chagim are times of shared laughter among family in my house and those of many diaspora Jews. I am not going to lie, being over 7,000 miles from home during days I normally dedicate to my family has been difficult. Regardless of how extremely fun Rosh Hashanah was I inevitably missed my mom’s brisket (best in the world, for the record) and playing pranks on my older cousin. Regardless of where I am, I love using the holidays as time to reflect on the year: both on the people I am grateful for and the things I want to do moving forward.

Since we are currently on campus due to the nation-wide lockdown in Israel, AMHSI has scheduled tons of festive yet meaningful programming to form a memorable holiday experience. Of all the amazing activities and lessons I have had in the last few days, my favorite one was “Looking in the Mirror: … Using modern poetry as a tool for self-reflection” with our head of school Dr. Shinar. As a self-proclaimed poetry nerd and a firm believer in self-reflection, I was immediately interested in this session. What I did not realize going into the session was how much I would connect to the pieces of literature we would read. The one resonated with the most was “Identity” by Julio Noboa Polanco. If you have not read it, I recommend you do, but its main idea is that the author would rather be a disgusting weed that is uniquely himself than an assimilated flower that society praises.

As Jews, I think we can all resonate with that on some level, especially those of us who grew up in non-Jewish communities. I was always the school Jew, the girl who didn’t celebrate Christmas, the Other. When I was younger, I struggled with this. Like every third-grader, I just wanted to fit, to be able to be liked as a person and not have my existence defined by my “abnormality”. I was just a little different, why was that so “wrong”?

Well, as I got older and began connecting to the greater Jewish community - I realized it wasn't. I was different, but that was what made me who I am. Celebrating Hanukkah rather than Christmas made me unique and if that makes me an “ugly weed” as Polanco puts it,  that’s society’s problem. Has it added difficulties to my life? Absolutely. But, like Polanco wrote I am independent in my identity and therefore not reliant on the acceptance of a judging society and its ever-shifting norms. Weeds are resilient, as is my identity and my community. No trend can take who I am away, and that is what I want to always remember in the new year. My sense of self is not reliant on the chagim or on the smiles of my non-Jewish peers when I dumb-down my Jewishness so that it can be more “palatable” for them. The chagim are sources of great happiness and help us as Jews to reflect on how we are each the continuation of the story of a great people. Nevertheless, this pride in our individuality is something that we need to carry with us year-round. In 5781 and beyond, I aim to embody the grotesque weed by spreading my truth as far and wide as a weed spreads in a field, regardless of how many of society’s flowers I have to overturn in the process.