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Yom Kippur 2010

Sydney Abrams

Good afternoon. My name is Sydney Abrams. Today, I would like to share a journey with all of you, a journey that is very close to my heart.

I grew up in a home filled with Christmas trees and Hanukkah candles. My home was decorated in one room with green and red. The other room was decorated in blue and white. My home is an interfaith home where my mother is Catholic and my father is Jewish. Both of my parents felt that it was important for children to be raised in an organized religion. As long as you had a place to turn when times were rough, they were content with either faith.
But what did that mean for me? It left a large weight on my shoulder to choose between my mother’s religion and my father’s religion. One of my brothers chose to go through CCD and was confirmed as a Catholic. The other brother went through Hebrew School, became a Bar Mitzvah, and was confirmed here at Temple Isaiah.
But for me, it was never a choice. It was a calling. The calling touched my soul, opened my eyes, and grabbed for my heart. At first, wanting to be a Jew was more about how I felt towards it. Each time I would walk into a temple over the High Holidays, butterflies would soar through my stomach. The closer I went to the bema during a Friday night service the harder my heart would flutter. During Pesach seders, drinking the wine would cause my lips to tingle with happiness, as I understood the meaning behind each sip.
As thrilling as all of this was, I was not a Jew. I would participate like a Jew would, but I was not a part of the wonderful people I longed to share life with.
When I was in 4th grade, I can remember turning to my Catholic mother and saying, “I feel a kinship with the Jewish people. I want to be one of them.
Our family decided to go to Israel on a Temple trip with Rabbi Jaffe in 6th grade. The trip to Israel sealed my desire to pursue my Judaism.
At the time, I was not capable of having a formal affirmation of Judaism until I was 13. Since my mother is not Jewish, I needed to go through a process in order to be accepted as a Jew.
The long, meaningful process began with a woman named Jess Kent. She was the woman who taught me everything from Hebrew to ideas about Jewish holidays to numerous aspects about the faith and people.
As time went on, I decided to speak to Rabbi Jaffe about going through an affirmation. I told him I had been studying with Jess and that I knew I wanted to become a Jew. He kindly walked me through the steps I would have to take. First, I would need to read books about religions, not just Judaism. I read books on Catholics, Protestants, and more. He gave me questions to answer as I went along so I could easily compare the differences and similarities between the religions to be sure of my decision to become a Jew. After a few more meetings with Rabbi Jaffe, we scheduled a date for me to go before a Beit Din and dunk into the holy Mikveh waters.
On June 4th,2008, I went to the Newton Mikveh. Nervous, anxious, and determined, I walked through the doors. My family, as well as family friends, came to support me. Directly after we arrived, the rabbis came. The three rabbis including, Rabbi Jaffe and Rabbi Brown, serving on the Beit Din, and I went into a small, cozy room. They asked me a variety of questions. They ranged from, “Why do you want to be a Jew,” to “What are your views on G-d”, and more. As my family and friends waited for the approval so that my dreams could come true, I calmly answered the questions. Soon enough, the questions were over. I smiled through the doors and went to prepare for the Mikveh.
For the Mikveh, a Jewish woman had to be present to make sure the entirety of my body, including every piece of hair, went into the waters. My best friend, Libby Rosenfield, was the person who helped me prepare to go into the Mikveh. I showered, washed my body, cleaned my nails, and prepared myself. Libby and I then went to the holy waters. I stepped into what seemed like an oversized bathtub with underwater lights. On each step, I took a deep breath. Soon enough I was in the water.
As I dunked my head under the water, prayers were recited as I came up. Libby verified that each strand of hair had gone underwater. I proceeded to dunk a few more times, taking in all that I could. I stepped out of the water as I felt a sense of belonging. It was as if I had been waiting for this moment that finally came.
My family and family friends rejoiced with me as I happily announced that I was officially a Jew. 
My family, family friends, and the rabbis headed back to the temple. We went inside. I could feel the inspiration, love, and happiness inside of me. We walked to the Chapel. Rabbi Jaffe kindly had me hold the Torah. It was very heavy, but in some ways, that’s what Judaism is: a heavy concept, but if you hold it for long enough, it begins to get lighter. We went back to my house for a joyous dinner where I felt like my true self emerged into whom I should be. I looked around the room and saw the love and support radiating from my family and friends. In particular, without my mom and dad driving me places, talking ideas through with me, and most of all, supporting me, none of my affirmation would have been possible.
The next fall, I began Hebrew High School as an 8th grader at Temple Isaiah. Though I was nervous, I have made great friends here at Temple. I learned more about Judaism through a variety of classes here. It made me thrilled to be a part of a Jewish community because it made me feel as though I belonged.
Through my 8th grade year, I met once a week with a wonderful tutor named Stephanie Bernstein. She helped me prepare for my Bat Mitzvah. With a lot of help from my brother, Archie, and parents, I was finally ready. My speech was about the choices that we make in life. My Torah portion was from Deuteronomy about the blessings. On Saturday of Labor Day weekend, I stood in front of my family, a few close friends, and other members of the congregation during a minyan service, as I became a Bat Mitzvah.
I decided to peruse further my interest in my religion and people by going to “Gann Academy: The New Jewish High School of Greater Boston.” It teaches one everything about Judaism. I took courses in Biblical Literature, Rabbinic Literature, and Hebrew. The culture and community are very strong there.
Additionally, I still come to Hebrew School at Temple Isaiah. I’m also a board member of LEFTY, the Jewish youth group. LEFTY and Temple Isaiah are truly the highlights of my week. I love it here and couldn’t ask for a better place to belong. Also, this year we will be preparing for our confirmation.
Although my Jewish journey may seem over, it really has just begun. Over time, Judaism was not only a feeling that I wanted to obtain, but it was also what I became intellectually curious about. From studying the Mishnah and reading about Rabban Gamliel’s pious opinions to Hillel and Shammai’s disputes, rabbinic literature will remain one of my focuses. Another focus will be on the Tanakh as a whole. In this technology driven world with everything happening so quickly, I feel lucky to be studying texts that allow me to slowly process and think through its meaningful lessons.
I hope everyone in this room can learn not only about Jewish tradition, but also about the wonderful community we have here. Without community, the Jewish people would be in a very different place. Once you have found your Jewish community, stick by it. Without it, where would we be?
Thank you.

Thu, August 22 2019 21 Av 5779