I converted to Judaism when I was 12 years old. Born to a black, Christian mother and a Polish-Jewish father, I had a complex relationship to my mixed identity. As much as I loved celebrating my identity, growing up I often asked myself: ‘Why can’t I just be normal and not always be a question mark everywhere I go?’ There is so much rich and complicated history that makes up my identity – my dad’s parents were Holocaust survivors; my mother’s side includes slave owners mixing with slaves and the “tragedy of the mulatto” story. Consequently, for a long time, I struggled finding my place. I didn’t feel a sense of belonging anywhere. I wasn’t black enough to fit in the black world, and I wasn’t Jewish enough to always be accepted there. I felt like I had to convert to Judaism to solidify my place in the community.
That was my first step. My second step was becoming active in Hillel.
Embracing my Jewish heritage at Hillel opened a path for me to explore social justice work and make an impact on the communities to which I belong and wish to improve. My sophomore year, Columbia/Barnard Hillel’s staff encouraged me to apply to the Peer Network Engagement Internship, and I’m so glad I did. Through this internship, I learned how to build networks – a skill that will serve me in many areas of my life. My unique background situates me in a place where I can understand both what it is like to feel like an outsider, and what it means to grow into a community. The internship gave me the ability to reach out to Jewish students on campus who also didn’t feel “Jewish enough,” or comfortable finding their own Jewish network. I created programming that allowed spaces for discussion for Jews on the margin. This work made me feel confident in being different. And for that, I will always be grateful.