From generation to generation: Teenage reflections in the wake of Colleyville
Judaism teaches us to pass on our values l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. Among the many gifts I have received through this lineage, a passionate survival instinct frequently feels most important. The grit and resilience of my ancestors is hardwired into my DNA.
There is a popular joke among Jews that any Jewish holiday can be summed up in three sentences: They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat! While I have always loved that we, as a people, are dedicated to food, the first sentence of this summary is eerily accurate. On Purim we celebrate the great Queen Esther who bravely protected her Jewish brethren from a massacre by an antisemitic advisor to the King of Persia. On Passover we honor the courage of Moses who led the exodus of Jewish people out of Egypt, the land where they were enslaved. On Hanukkah we remember the Maccabees who fought the rule of an oppressive King and regained ownership of our, though vandalized, still holy temple. On all of these holidays, we commemorate the valor of our ancestors who stood up in the face of oppression, and we rejoice in our unexpected survival.
In his Republic, Plato wrote “what is honored in a country is cultivated there.” Our religion teaches us to honor the resilience and bravery of those who fought for our people, cultivating these valuable lessons, which are now fundamental to our existence. A brief glance through our more modern history reveals a relentless pattern of horrific antisemitism, through all of which we have continued the trend of surviving against the odds. From the Spanish Inquisition to the atrocities of the Holocaust, the Jewish people have suffered inumerable loss. And somehow we are still here. We make up less than 0.2% of the world’s population and yet we have survived millennia of hatred, unflagging xenophobia.
Every time the Jewish people have been forced to rebuild, they rose to the challenge. The destruction of the first temple gave rise to the second. Like a phoenix born from ashes, the Jewish people have a tireless commitment to survival. The strength required to rebuild a nation after near annihilation even once is cosmic, yet my ancestors have done it regularly.
Judaism teaches us to pass on our values l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. Among the many gifts I have received through this lineage, a passionate survival instinct frequently feels most important. The grit and resilience of my ancestors is hardwired into my DNA. Generation upon generation of Jews have faced antisemitism, yet somehow, against all odds, I am still here. Despite every attempt to eradicate our otherness, we remain. From the stories of our holidays to the history learned in Sunday school, the spirit of resilience is instilled deep within us at a young age. It is a necessary resilience that is tested at every turn.
When I was 10 years old there was a bomb threat at the local Jewish day school. When I was 13 years old, a week after becoming a bat mitzvah, a man shot and killed 11 people in a Pittsburg synagogue, not so different from my own. I’ve seen vandalism and verbal assault in my newsfeed; I’ve heard dangerous tropes and pure vitriol from all walks of life, from acquaintances to elected leaders. As I watch the growing antisemitism in the United States and worldwide, I cannot turn away and pretend I’m not involved. I am duty bound to pay attention and engineered to respond.
I’ve heard countless times that antisemitism simply cannot exist because religion is a choice and if people are being unkind then I can simply choose to not be Jewish. This thinking is flawed. Judaism is a fundamental part of my identity. It is in the foods that I eat, the holidays I celebrate, the values I hold, and the ancestors I honor. It colors the way I view the world and the ways I hope to change it. From my earliest memories of lighting the shabbat candles at my surrogate grandmother’s house to the endless hours I spent running around the gaga pit at Sunday school. From my daily mitzvahs, good deeds, to my commitment to tikkun olam, repairing the world. For me Judaism is inescapable, in my nature and my nuture. I wouldn’t change anything.
I love that bagels with lox are my cultural food and that my family shows affection with passionate arguments and incessant interruptions. I love that my grandfather has taught me all the Yiddish swear words he knows so that I can talk smack while we play chess. I love that my goal in life is to be a mensch, a good person.
Less than two weeks ago I saw the news of another attack on a synagogue, this one in Colleyville, Texas, the latest in a series of violent attacks in our community centers. Maybe it’s sensible to consider avoiding these places all together, for our own safety. But I cannot forget my ancestors who fought for my right to be Jewish. Although I am terrified, and rightfully so, I will go to temple proudly. I will join a Jewish community in college. I will have a Jewish wedding when I get married. My kids will complain when I force them to get up early for Sunday school. I will remember the words of my ancestors and eat bagels with lox. I will bring matzo ball soup to people who are sick. Above all, I will always try to be a mensch.
There’s an old Yiddish proverb: Hope for miracles, but don’t rely on them. I hope that one day we won’t have to consider being ourselves as an act of resistance. I hope that one day walking into a synagogue will be as easy as coming home and not as terrifying as entering a warzone. I hope that one day we will hold our heads high out of confidence, not out of defiance. However, I will not rely on miracles. The responsibility to survive has been passed down l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. This legacy is my birthright.
They tried to kill us. We survived.
Samantha Solomon is a high school sophomore at Castilleja School in Palo Alto, California.