Photo Credit: Gershon Elinson/Flash90

“A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness” -Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. As New York Jews faced a wave of hate and anti-Semitism, it was especially important for me to make sure my 6th grade students knew how to take pride in who they are, and to know what it is that makes them most proud to be Jewish. This assignment taught me a lot about what young Jews are thinking in 2020, and it taught them a lot about what their Jewishness means to them. Tears came to my eyes as I read their accounts filled with perspective, awareness, and optimism. Here are some of their accounts:

Olivia (6th grade) wrote:

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Learning the stories of the Jewish people has always made me proud of who I am. Knowing that the Jews always had an obstacle not only in history, but anti-Semitism still exists today. When you think about this, you realize after everything the Jewish people had been through, we are still standing here today. We now have our own state of Israel, Jewish schools, synagogues, and facilities made for Jewish adults and kids to play and spend time together. Attending synagogue makes me feel proud to be Jewish, while sitting in shul and seeing everyone pray to G-d, there is a strong sense of unity. People may be praying for different reasons, but there are times where we come together as one and praise Hashem. We, the Jewish people, may be a small fraction of the world’s population, but we achieve big things. We have one of the best air forces and army in general, we excel in technology, science, math, the field of medicine, and so much more.

Gabriel (5th grade) wrote:

What makes me proud to be Jewish in my life is going to synagogue, celebrating all the Jewish holidays, having Shabbat dinner with my family, and many more. People in my family that make me proud to be Jewish are my great grandfather, and my great grandmother; they have amazing stories about how they survived the holocaust, they were very brave in the holocaust. The way my great-grandfather survived the holocaust was: when he was in a line to be shot by the Nazis, the bullet that the Nazis shot him with did not kill him. He fell into the pit of dead body’s alive so it looked like he was dead and that is how he survived. I am also proud to be Jewish, because of the Jewish community. I am very lucky to go to a Jewish school, and to go to a synagogue. I love doing Mitzvahs like helping the homeless, going to old age homes, and doing charity. I belong to a mitzvah club. As part of the mitzvah club, we help out at soup  kitchens, go to old age homes, make care packages for children who are really sick, and make gifts for the police and fire department to thank them for all their help protecting the community, and much more.

Mia G. (6th grade) wrote:

“My mom and my dad were both served in the IDF, and it makes me proud because it shows me how well my parents were defending the army of Israel.”

Noa F. (6th grade) wrote:

“When I think about being Jewish, the first thing that comes to my mind is “family”.  I love my family with all my heart. My family is very important to me because they are there for me when I need them. I grew up hearing stories about how my great-grandparents always valued the importance of being together in a Jewish home. They were holocaust survivors, but even though they went through terrible times, they continued to believe in Hashem and built a beautiful, Jewish home where my mother’s parents grew up. “There are many mitzvahs that make me proud to be Jewish. One of the main mitzvah that comes to my mind is Bikur Cholim. I give food to the sick before every holiday with my sister and family. I also love to fulfill the mitzvah of studying torah in school. I like to learn about the Jewish people, Hashem’s miracles, and how we left Mizraim. I enjoy helping my parents set up for shabbat and helping them if they need help. I love doing mitzvot and helping people if they need.”

Max (6th grade) wrote:

“We don’t hate we only have time to love,” said a Holocaust survivor. A lot of other people might say we are different because of our special holidays or customs, but to me we are special, a gift to this world. I am really proud to be one of those gifts… Israel is a very very smart country, but the part that makes me most proud is that during the Holocaust Hitler’s goal was to wipe out our nation, and now we are still standing. We have a Jewish country, very high technology, and outstanding medical discoveries—all after we started from nothing— and that makes me really proud to be a Jew.”

Abby (6th grade) wrote:

I am proud to be a part of an ancient people which still thrives today in the modern world. Jewish people today study the same Torah and have the same Mesorah as our ancestors. Although we are faced with a resurgent threat of anti-Semitism, the Jewish people will survive and even keep rising. As an ancient people, we have seen all of these threats before and we can face the world with the confidence of being able to survive and maintain a strong link to our glorious past.

I am proud to a part of a large and loving Jewish family. For me, being Jewish is the same as being part of my Jewish family and our traditions. I love having Shabbat dinner with my family each Friday night, and having long meals on every holiday with my grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles.

Paxton (6th grade) wrote:

“I have a great, great, great, great, great, etc. grandpa named Isaiah Horwitz, a.k.a Yeshayahu ben Avraham Horowitz. He was born in Prague 1555. He was known as one of the greatest rabbis to be born in Prague. This lets me know that someone from my family had a big impact on many people, which makes me very proud. “

Leila (6th grade) wrote:

“My Rabbi’s wife makes me proud to be Jewish. She teaches me about the Chumash. She also taught me all the important Jewish values for women, made me understand how important it is to be a good Jewish girl, and taught me to focus on being careful with how I use my words and not to offend anybody.

My favorite mitzvah is having family and friends over at my house also known as Hachnasat Orchim. My family and I like having people over for shabbat dinner, after shul, for Rosh Hashanah, break the fast, and many more. I also help my parents by cleaning the house, washing the dishes, and throwing out the garbage. I also study torah in school, and at home with my father.”

Samuel Michal (6th grade) wrote:

My favorite thing about being Jewish is celebrating holidays with my family. Chanukah is my favorite holiday because I get gifts, play dreidel games, and light the menorah. I also like Sukkot because I get to sit in the sukkah with my friends and family, shake the lulav and etrog, and go to shul. Another thing I like about being Jewish is shabbat. Shabbat is a day of rest for me. I get to sleep, relax, play with my brother, and go to shul.

“Know who you are” should not remain only a Disney theme song. Jewish children growing up in a rapidly evolving world should be encouraged and inspired to know who they are and take pride in it. As a teacher, my experience with giving this assignment has been transformative, to children and parents. More than anything, I found it inspiring me as a teacher, letting me know how honored I am to teach another generation of happy Jewish children.

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