A Personal Message from the President
Since moving to Oneonta in 1984, I have quietly managed my chronic Jewish identity crisis. Being Jewish here is not like being Jewish in the Long Island suburb of my youth where neighbors visited one another on front stoops during Jewish holidays. Being Jewish in a Jewish neighborhood is very easy, but being Jewish in Oneonta where we exist in a Christian-dominant culture and are required to navigate what can be stress-inducing Christian holidays is not always easy. In Oneonta, I often feel being a minority forces my Jewish identity to become a distinctive trait, like it or not.
As many of you know, raising Jewish children in a small, rural community is a challenge. As parents, Heidi and I wanted our daughter, Aliya, to have a sense of Jewish pride. This required many visits to our downstate family for holidays and celebrations, regular attendance at Tot Shabbat, active participation in synagogue life and Hebrew School, reading Jewish books at home, practicing Hebrew together (more than Aliya wanted to), listening to Israeli music while driving to school, and celebrating her bat mitzvah. From what I can tell, Aliya, now nearly 20-years-old, has not shared my Jewish identity angst. Always a minority in school and at extracurricular activities, somehow she simply embraced and enjoyed her Jewish identity. Whether wearing an “Everyone Loves A Jewish Girl” t-shirt in elementary school, an “ugly” Chanukah sweater (with a giant Jewish star a la Seth Rogen) for “Ugly Christmas Sweater Day” in high school, or the gold Star of David necklace she received from her grandparents on the day she went to the mikveh (at age 4), Aliya always felt comfortable and confident with her Jewish identity. This amazes me, especially since she was part of a tiny Jewish community, went to a one-day a week Hebrew School, and attended Oneonta High School where anti-Semitic comments and swastikas were present. As a student at the University at Albany, she is part of a diverse Jewish community (with Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Hasidic, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews) and participates at Hillel and Chabad. The Jewish education and sense of community Aliya enjoyed at Temple Beth El clearly nourished her Jewish spirit and left her wanting more. (Thank you to all her Hebrew School teachers!) Ever since our family trip to Israel in honor of her bat mitzvah, Aliya has wanted to return. She achieved her goal this past summer when she went on a Birthright trip to Israel and later had an 8-week internship in Haifa working for women’s rights with a joint Palestinian-Israeli women’s NGO. She loved it in Israel and did not want to come home (and almost didn’t).
I am writing this column with great emotion because Aliya has decided to make aliyah to Israel, and her departure is quickly approaching. On January 9, she will join other new immigrants at JFK and board an El Al flight to begin her new life in Israel. She will study at a 5-month ulpan (Hebrew immersion program) in Tiberias before enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces. After completing her 2-year military service, she plans to continue her college education in Israel. I share this news feeling both admiration (it is bold, brave, and Jewish) and anguish (we’ll worry terribly and miss her), but hoping she will be happy, healthy, and safe in Israel. To be honest, I have never seen Aliya happier than she is now. She is very excited to go “home” and be an Israeli.
This column is an invitation to you, Aliya’s synagogue family, to join us on Friday, January 5 at 7:30, for a special Shabbat service and Oneg in her honor. Rabbi Karp will call Aliya to the bimah for a blessing and to receive the good wishes of Temple Beth El. If you are available to mark this milestone in Aliya’s life, Heidi and I hope you will join us.