Last week, I talked about my experience growing up as a non-Jew in a Jewish community. This week, I interviewed my fellow intern, Rachel Feins, who grew up Jewish in a non-Jewish community.
In Rachel's town, Bedford, New Hampshire, she could count all the Jewish kids her age on both hands. She claims it was definitely hard being Jewish in a town that has little to no Jewish population. On High Holy days when she would have liked to to be reflecting or relaxing, she was up until 10:00 p.m. or later doing homework, so she wouldn’t fall behind. She would have to miss school to go to High Holiday services, because Jewish holidays weren't acknowledged by her school. Rachel says, “I found it quite unfair that I was being penalized for following and practicing my religion.”
Rachel didn’t grow up keeping Kosher even though her mom did. She thinks that maybe things would have been different if her family had more access to kosher foods. She says her mom never pressured her and her sister to keep kosher because it would have been way too hard. Rachel states, “we only had a kosher brisket at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and maybe Passover.” The reason this was so rare was because in order to get a brisket her parents had to fill a cooler with ice, and then drive all the way down to Canton, MA, about an hour and a half away, to pick up the brisket. Rachel explained to me that the Kosher food they had in her local grocery stores was only food for Passover and how this is completely different from regular day-to-day kosher food.
Rachel started attending a Jewish sleep away camp at around eleven years old in Hampstead, New Hampshire. Here, Rachel met a lot of other Jewish kids her age. This was a point in Rachel’s life when she was finally exposed to so many kids her age that followed the same religion as her. When I asked Rachel if she felt comforted by this, her answer was a mixture of feelings. She felt overwhelmed because there were other kids there who knew more prayers than her or had been at the camp for many years already. Eventually, she found her niche there, but it took her a little while to get settled. Ultimately, this is where her eyes were opened to the many different kinds of Judaism. She met conservative Jews, Orthodox Jews, and other reform Jews like herself. As Rachel grows older, she keeps becoming more and more in touch with Judaism. This was sparked even more when she started college and was able to find more Jewish friends at school.
Now, Rachel is going into her Senior year at UVM studying mathematics and theatre. She is very involved in UVM Hillel and this summer she's working for Jewish Communities of Vermont. Rachel says, “I'm learning more than I could’ve ever imagined.” In the future, she's considering working for Hillel during the two years she's planning on taking off between finishing college and starting law school.
Keep up the great work Rachel!
By Gabby Costa