By Bridget Frenkel
Born and raised in New York City as a modern Jew, I never really knew what lay ahead of me religiously. All my life I lived in a community surrounded by non-Jews. On my way to school I would pass by ultra-Orthodox Hasidic communities and think to myself, “Wow, I am not as religious as they are, but I am Jewish, so I should be.” I lived all of my life, up until now at nineteen years of age, without fitting into this religious form.
Growing up, my parents sadly didn’t have the ability to practice their Judaism due to anti-Semitism. The non-Jews in their community called them names and they were told that they weren’t allowed to practice Judaism — they weren’t even allowed to pray or dress like Jewish people. They were shunned and isolated from everyone else. The non-Jews and the Jews had their own lives, but the non-Jews were the dominant group where they lived. When my parents got married and had me, they tried to protect me from anti-Semitism by not practicing Judaism publicly. But we were still a Jewish family that kept kosher and observed all major holidays and all of the fasts. We didn’t pray or wear certain outfits like the other Jewish communities for fear that we would be made fun of just because we were Jewish.
I attended public school up until my acceptance to college. When I was applying to colleges, I was in search of an amazing pre-med program, and that is when I found Yeshiva University. They were affiliated with Albert Einstein School of Medicine, which caught my eye because I was really interested in pursuing the medical field. As I applied to YU, I knew it was a religious university with many religious classes that I’d never taken before, and when I was accepted into YU, I worried that I wouldn’t fit into such a religious school.
Finally, I accepted YU’s offer and I was excited to start college, but at the same time, I had a lot of nervous jitters. Am I a perfect fit for this school? Am I religious enough? I don’t wear skirts…am I going to be made fun of or judged? I don’t know how to pray in Hebrew! All these thoughts ran through my mind. When I finally got settled into my dorm a week into the semester, I slowly became more and more comfortable with the school. I made amazing friends who were all a bit more religious than me, for which I am so thankful for looking back at it now.
The YU environment is the perfect place for both spiritual and physical growth. Each of my friends helped me grow religiously. I am no longer scared to show my Jewish side. I am fully tznius now and I pray every single day when I get up in the morning. It was a long nineteen-year journey, but I am so thankful for all my friends and my family for supporting me every step of the way, and I can proudly say that I helped both my parents move past their fears of showing their Judaism in public. They are now unafraid to show their religion, and I’m proud to see them so happy about showing their Judaism to the world.