From the time I was born, my parents set me on a direct path to Judiasm, however my road to Temple Rodeph Torah and my upcoming Confirmation had many stop-offs along the way. Religion has been an important part of my family’s life and soon after I came into this world, I was taken to temple where I received my Jewish name, Chana Rifka, in honor of my father’s and mother’s grandmothers. At the age of three, I entered pre-school at another Reform congregation, where I learned the fundamentals of reading and speaking Hebrew, our Jewish customs, history, holidays and traditions.
In first grade I was off to public school and continued my Jewish education at yet another temple. However, a series of unfortunate events at this temple made me question their teachings and the meaning of being a Jew.
Changing temples was frightening, but after learning some disturbing things about the people around me, I wanted to stop going to temple altogether. Additionally, I felt a disconnect with my peers during a time in life when I could have used their support. These circumstances further contributed to my decision that I wanted to stop going to temple because I felt that the words that were being taught were mere rhetoric which nobody bothered to follow. Despite my pleas to the contrary, my parents joined Rodeph Torah and enrolled me in Hebrew school.
I really didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at Rodeph Torah for class; the only thing that I was certain about is that I didn’t want to be there. Yet, when I was dropped off for my first day of school, I can vividly recall the site of Rabbi Weber standing outside the building and welcoming me. Once inside, Rabbi Weber, Rabbi Stern, my teacher and my fellow students welcomed me with open arms, making me feel very comfortable. At TRT I was taught many of the same things as I learned before with one big exception; I was always encouraged to be the best Jew I can be even if it is not perfect and to always question things that I do not understand or agree with.
The following year I had a class with Rabbi Weber in preparation for my bat Mitzvah which gave me the opportunity to get to know him as a person, a teacher and as a friend. Throughout that year, I gained a deeper appreciation for my religion and a strong desire to connect to it in the best way I could. To that end, Hebrew high school afforded me the opportunity gain more insight into what it meant to be a Jewish woman in America today. In sharp contrast to my beginnings at TRT, I actually wanted to attend Hebrew high after my bat Mitzvah!
In Hebrew high, we discussed a wide array of topics such as ethics, marriage, the responsibility of being a Jewish woman, how we can lobby our elected officials, sex, and even abortion. To his credit, the rabbi always asked thought provoking questions and answered our questions very candidly. All in all, I learned that women have an equally important place in Judaism as men, and that the content of one’s heart, their kindness and their personal ethics are the most important assets of being a good Jew. I feel very fortunate that I was able to attend Hebrew high school at TRT and I am sure that the lessons I learned will help guide me through my life.