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Hannah Herbst: Jew(ish)

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What does it mean to be Jewish? Hannah Herbst tells us about the complexities of her Jewish identity.

In a casual conversation over dinner, my mom recently asked me, “Do you consider yourself to be a Jew, Hannah?”

Growing up in New York, I was surrounded by Judaism. I went to preschool at my temple and learned the Hebrew alphabet in conjunction with English. I sang with the cantor and brought in any rusty, old pennies I could find for tzedakah.

I continued to attend temple I got older. I would walk there with a close friend on my neighborhood aqueduct. When we both got the part of ‘Esther’ for our Purim spiel, we ran lines back and forth in preparation. I would occasionally practice my shofar for high holidays, to the chagrin of anyone within hearing range.

And yet.


Long biweekly classes, the struggle of reading a Hebrew prayer book without transliteration. At the time, so much of it felt like a chore.

Now, I live in Northern California. My family hasn’t found a synagogue like the one in New York. It takes a greater effort to maintain our cultural identity.

In truth, I don’t actually know what I believe in. I’m not positive that my faith can categorize me as Jewish. I’m not convinced there’s a God who created the universe in six days … even though I know a song about it by heart. But, for me, Judaism is the people I love; the things I practice. It’s my childhood, what I was raised on. My most treasured memories.

Judaism has given me an identity by giving me a culture and a community to fall back on, one I honor through both remembrance and tradition. Despite any religious disbelief, I will always be a Jew.

With a Perspective, I’m Hannah Herbst.

Hannah Herbst is a high school senior. Outside of class, she is a coxswain on her local rowing team, and also loves to go backpacking and read.

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