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The Jewish Identity

The Jewish Identity

by Michael Abdurakhmanov

As many of you know I am part of the third cohort of PDI, which is a program that offers program staff an opportunity to pursue an MBA and MJED. Earlier this month I was away on one of our in class school retreats which focused on the history of the American Jews. A passage was read from “In the Image” by Dara Horn which resonated greatly to the Identity work that I feel we in BBYO are focusing on. The passage spoke about an interesting moment in history when Jewish immigrants coming into America for reasons that could be debated upon were giving up “traditional” ways of Judaism as they were entering the “new world”. The passage opens a large question for Jewish people today – What is the American Jewish identity? I would go on to add, is it changing with our youth?

The school seminar transitioned into BBYO’s annual staff conference during which I was motivated to lead a discussion with staff from across the country discussing those two very questions. The results of which was an eye opening experience for all motivating ourselves to re-exam what defines our “J-ID” and how our youth have began the process for themselves already, while the adults were left behind scrambling for solid ground.

As a Buharian Jewish Immigrant to this country my identity was formulated quite differently through extreme anti-Semitism that my family fled from. Growing up in Brooklyn, NY which some would argue to be the true melting pot of America, with hundreds of cultures, religions, people and beliefs easily and constantly available. I was able to very comfortably develop my Jewish identity and eventually found myself working in the Jewish field. I never felt a need to conform to any one way of Judaism, instead I saw my Judaism as a constantly changing and evolving process; one that was never judging of others around me but always guiding me along my journey.

Oddly enough, on my train ride back to Philadelphia, I was spotted by another Jewish traveler and a conversation was sparked on the same topic. This traveler was proud of having gone through Hebrew school, confirmation, and all the other as he called them “landmarks” his community wanted for him. When he attempted to try the same with his three children, the results were different. “My children were not all ready at the same time to receive the same amount of Judaism” said the traveler, “a tailored approach of self exploration was what I needed more of”.

In BBYO the program staff strives to meet the youth at whatever level they are at and aim to help them navigate through which ever directions their hearts might be taking them. The empowering nature of the organization helps youth feel confident and strong in their ability to be leaders of their community. It also gives them enormous confidence to continue their Judaic exploration. The pluralistic nature of the regions enables chapters to open their doors to various teens, synagogues and other organizations exposing youth to things they might be interested in exploring deeper. This ability to open doors fosters a safe atmosphere for healthy identity development which leads to stronger, lasting bonds towards Judaism into their adult lives.

As educators, parents, youth leaders, religious and none figures, it is often a very difficult line that we are faced with, how much of our personal values and morals do we place on the growing youth. To what extent do we take a step back and hope the morals we instilled in them will guide them properly across their journey. It appears that maybe it is time to take a step back once again and listen to what the youth appear to be asking for. We have to find ourselves working together with each other, helping drive unity, exposure and safety for exploration on all level of Identity. Most importantly we should find time to look internally and discover where our journey has taking us, and where does it appear to be going next.

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