The story of my Jewish identity begins at the Seattle Jewish Community School, which I attended from kindergarten through fifth grade. As a result, from a young age I looked at the world through the lens of Judaism.
While my dad went to a Jewish day school, learning Hebrew and studying Jewish practices in a formal way, my mom grew up in a culturally Jewish household, where Yiddish was spoken at times. It wasn’t until later in life when she went to graduate school and studied Yiddish that she got more serious about Judaism. Like my father, I had my bat mitzvah (with my twin sister) at age 13 at my Conservative synagogue. My mom had hers later in life, at age 45, when I was in elementary school. Although at different periods in our lives, each of us devoted time and effort to the preparation of becoming a bat/bar mitzvah.
My Jewish identity can also be attributed to my family’s Jewish traditions. Every Friday in the Lavitt household means a delicious meal prepared by my mother. As I have grown older, this tradition is what grounds my Jewish identity as my life has gotten busier. We celebrate Jewish holidays, like Passover, Hanukkah, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah, with friends and family.
Like both of my parents, I went to Jewish summer camp, where I was able to connect with a large network of Jewish teenagers and celebrate our Judaism while having fun. Jewish summer camp is a consistent factor in the beginnings of all of our Jewish identities.
My Jewish identity is made up of components of both my parents’ Jewish upbringings. I am the sum of their Jewish identities. They have raised me in an observant home, sent me to a Jewish school and summer camp, helped me become a bat mitzvah, and continue to provide me with opportunities to further my Jewish identity. They have shown me ways and spaces in which I can express my Jewish identity.
The Pacific Northwest has a reputation for not being very religious, and that is reflected in me. I attended Hebrew school until seventh grade, but my family does not attend Shabbat services. Other than the High Holidays and Purim, my family does not attend synagogue. We have never considered ourselves very religious.
My parents and I value different parts of the Jewish experience. While my mom grew up in a Jewish household, she ate kosher as a child, unlike me. She also did not attend Jewish summer camps for more than a year, something that plays a big role in my personal experience. My dad converted. What is most valuable to him is the spiritual aspect of our religion and people. He often stays longest at synagogue on the High Holidays, despite knowing extremely little Hebrew and few prayers.
Saying prayers and blessings does make me feel Jewish and gives me a connection to my heritage, but cultural practices make me feel most Jewish. I feel more connected to my ethnic and cultural Jewish background than my religious Jewish background. I value gathering for seders and giving tzedakah. Though the holidays are important, I do not believe in a God, and I perform our religion not because it is commanded, but because it is what we do as Jews, and it connects me to thousands of years of history.
What I value most about being Jewish is the community aspect that comes with the culture. Being together with other Jewish people and living like a Jewish person is important to me. Having opportunities to live with our people and experience Jewish life in Jewish settings, not just in the secular American sphere, and being a part of Jewish culture, is what is most important to me as a college-age American Jew.