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.