Hebrew name: Chaya
Schools: Beverly High School, 2018; Salem State University, 2022
Major: Elementary Education and Special Education
Favorite Jewish food: falafel
Favorite non-familial Jewish person: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Favorite Jewish holiday: Rosh Hashanah
Favorite TV show: “Dexter”
Favorite travel destination: Italy
What was your Jewish background growing up?
Growing up, my parents had an interfaith marriage, but my father converted to Judaism when I was 12 so he could be a part of my bat mitzvah. Before he converted, we never celebrated Christmas or any of those holidays. I went to the JCC in Peabody for preschool, and I went to Hillel in Marblehead from kindergarten to eighth grade. My mom’s a Hebrew school teacher at Temple Tiferet Shalom. I was a camp counselor at the JCC in Marblehead from seventh to 12th grade, and I went to Israel on the Y2I program going into my junior year of high school.
How has Judaism shaped you as a person?
This past year, I worked at Temple Habonim in Barrington, R.I. Currently, I work as a nanny for a family I met at the Chabad in Peabody. My mom’s a Hebrew school teacher and works at the JCC, so growing up I had a Jewish education at school and at home. My long-term goal is to work at a Jewish day school, and be the director of special education or inclusion. My Jewish upbringing has set me on a career path that I look forward to. My grandmother always told me that the Ten Commandments were important to follow, and I take atoning for my mistakes on Yom Kippur seriously. I’ve done multiple mitzvah projects, such as a Hanukkah toy drive with my second-grade students at Temple Habonim and donated them to Citizens Inn in Peabody.
How does your Jewish identity differ from older generations?
My mom had a lot of Jewish friends that she went to high school with, but I didn’t have many Jewish friends from Beverly High School. Most of my Jewish friends are from camp, elementary school, Y2I, and temple. Unlike my grandmother, I don’t keep kosher at home or go to temple every weekend for services. The older generations of my family were Orthodox, but we’re Reform. I take a more personal approach to Judaism, and I think the Reform movement encourages that.
What has your experience within the Jewish community been like as a Jew of color?
Growing up, I didn’t realize I was any different than my peers, but I received some comments on how my hair was different from kids my age. I was on the cover of the Hillel pamphlet when I was 9 and the Jewish Journal B’nai Mitzvah magazine when I was 13 as the token person of color, but I didn’t mind it. I thought it was kind of cool. Looking back I find it interesting. I have a stronger connection to my Jewish identity than my identity as a person of color. I’ve gotten some comments that I look different, but I think people found it interesting that my dad is Black and was raised Catholic. The Jewish community has always been accepting of my family and me, even before my dad converted. Overall, I haven’t had any negative experiences as a Jew of color.