Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
December 16th, 2009

The Jewish Girl

A 10-year-old contemplates his religious identity



We were waiting for the bus. We were in Iowa for a month. We were there for the Iowa Writing Festival. My mom and dad were teaching classes. It was the third day of camp. My little sister had a friend to play with that lives in Iowa. It wasn’t fair! I had nobody to play with. This is my story.

It was a boring day as usual, with Chris and Tomas cracking jokes, Lauren and Taylor babbling their heads off to their friends about the daily gossip, and my friend Sarah silent like me. Then the yellow bus drove up with “Camp Otter” written on it in dark green letters. “All aboard!” screamed Alexander, the 26-year-old bus driver. All the little girls always blushed when he said “Hello, girls.” We got on the bus.

We were going to the great Hawkeye Recreation Complex to play freeze tag. We got the seats in the very back. Then Sarah said, “I went to that Hawk camp last week, ” reading my mind. Then out of the blue she said the thing that shocked me — three words that changed my life forever. She spat them out as fast as you can imagine. “Are you Jewish?” For a minute there, time stood still.

Then I replied, “Yes, I am Jewish.” Her face looked excited and dumbfounded.

“Cool, I am too, fist bump.” She stuck out her fist.

I said, “Okay.”

In an awkward silence I said, “What holidays do you do?”

Sarah replied, “I celebrate Hanukkah (of course), Shabbat, and Yom Kippur.” Then she said, “Are there a lot of Jews where you live?”

I replied quickly, “No, I live in North Carolina.”

“I was born in New York.” she said.

“Cool. I was too.” I replied.

We knew each other for a week. At first we didn’t know who the heck each other were. On the third day we knew each other pretty well. Little did I know we had a lot in common. We are both Jewish, like tennis, were born in New York, are the same age, are the fastest in our class, are the only Jewish person in class; and so much more.

I was sort of embarrassed that I wasn’t Christian. What can I say? I wanted to fit in. When I was six years old, almost every kid I knew said, “What is it like to be Jewish?”

I thought it was pretty cool meeting a Jewish girl in Iowa. Not many people I know are Jewish. (Other than people I know from our temple, called The Temple of Israel.) I usually feel sad that nobody is really related to me. I feel that because most of my family is spread out across the United States. So it is very hard to see them throughout the year. So I was glad I met Sarah.

When I was a little guy, I didn’t know that most of my friends were Christian. So I was like, whatever. It didn’t matter what religion I was. I didn’t care one bit. As I got older and older I was sort of embarrassed that I wasn’t Christian. What can I say? I wanted to fit in. When I was six years old, almost every kid I knew said, “What is it like to be Jewish?” I replied, “Well, it’s a lot like being Christian, but a whole different story.”

Last year I sometimes lied that I was Christian. All my buddies, Noah, Keon, Deon, Tiondre and Hayden, were playing football. The score was 17-10. Just then Hayden said “Hey Jonah, are you Jewish?”

My blood ran cold. I replied, “No, why do you ask?”

His eyes met mine. “Never mind then.” I felt bad lying to one of my best friends at Gregory Elementary. I should have told Hayden I actually was Jewish not Christian. I would regret that. I should have not have lied. If I didn’t lie, I wouldn’t have had the tugging feeling at the pit of my stomach for all that day.

To be honest, I felt much better telling people I was Jewish not Christian. When I met Sarah, I felt a 200-pound weight off my shoulders telling the truth. I think it’s good to tell the truth and it’s bad to hide it. I told Sarah I was Jewish, and that’s what matters.

The Author : Jonah Bender-Siegel
Jonah Bender-Siegel is in the fifth grade. He is a member of Temple of Israel of Wilmington, North Carolina.
See more articles by (1).
Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • jbs

    great job

  • a seeker

    Thanks for giving us this wonderful, heartfelt piece, Jonah. I can’t wait to hear from you again!

  • Hope

    Jonah, this is a terrific article. I’ve lived in many places where there aren’t lots of other Jewish people (like Tennessee and Iowa) and I know exactly how you felt, even though I was in my 20s at the time. You did an amazing job of turning your experience into an essay that many people can relate to, with honesty and insight. You’re a great writer! Can we hope to see more articles from you in the future?

  • Glenn Tetterton-Opheim

    Jonah, I have met you at the Temple of Israel. It has been a pleasure watching you grow up. Your article was thoughtful and enjoyable to read.

  • a canadian

    Rock On, Jonah. Very insightful piece…

  • Suzanne

    Jonah, your story touched me deeply. I will be sharing it with my children who also have sometimes felt different because they are Jewish. This can be an especially complicated time with all the Christmas preparations right now, and I think your story is very well-timed. Thank you so much for your thoughfulness and honesty.

  • Doug

    Hi Jonah. This is a great story. Thanks for writing it.

  • Mark

    You are an excellent writer, Jonah! I sure hope you keep telling your stories and sharing your experiences.

  • Rachel

    Hi Jonah, Thanks for writing this! You know, Christians sometimes feel shy about Christianity too, even adults. I bet almost everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about. Great job!

  • Tracey

    Bravo, JBS for having the courage to write this story. Maybe it will be the first in a series that can help young people with identity. Just know that there would be a void in the earth if you were not here. Good Job!

  • Laurel

    Congratulations on having your writing posted on this website, Jonah! You wrote beautifully and your message is powerful. Muy bien!

  • Kay Pugh

    Hi, Jonah!
    Great story. You’ve done a very good job of sharing very personal, private feelings openly and honestly. That’s hard for most adults to accomplish. Thank you for showing us this glimpse into how it feels to be “the only one.”
    (And, keep on writing!)

  • david bender

    Jonah, you captured perfectly the feeling of being in a minority and wanting to be accepted. As you feel more confident in who you are, you will find your real friends will accept you as you do them. You have helped many boys and girls who belong to minority groups. I’ll bet that your parents and grandparents are mighty proud of your ability to observe and make your thoughts known.

  • Chris Guppy

    Hi, Jonah! This is a great post! I wish more adults felt comfortable enough to share the truth about their faith. You are an inspiration!

  • http://www.thejewspot.org Monica Rozenfeld

    Oh wow. This is so much how I felt growing up too. My best friend’s family was born again Christian, and I was only one of a handful of awkward Jewish kids hiding in the closet. I remember one kid in middle school asked me if I was embarrassed to be Jewish. I was embarrassed but mostly because I couldn’t really defend myself. I didn’t know what it meant to be Jewish.

    Thanks Jonah for writing this! It brings back so many memories and reminds me how far I’ve come on my personal journey. Hope you keep finding more and more opportunity to openly express and explore what it means to be Jewish.

  • Mia

    Terrific story, Jonah. I can really relate to it. It reminds me of being your age. I love this: “Well, it’s a lot like being Christian, but a whole different story.” Congratulations on being a published author!

  • Aimee

    Thanks for writing this, Jonah– you describe your experience really well and I think both Jews and non-Jews will relate to what you’re saying. Funny and honest and terrific!

  • The Oxfordian

    What a thoughtful and sensitive post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic, Jonah! We look forward to more of your ideas!

powered by the Paulists