Our confirmands’ speeches.
Confirmation Speech, by Aaron Tabenken
When I first started Hebrew school, I used to dread getting up at 8:00 AM on Sunday mornings. I felt that I was just going somewhere to learn things that I thought were not important to me at all. As time went on, I realized there were some good things about attending Hebrew school. I was always happy to see my friends and we would often get together after school. We would always have a blast playing whatever video game was recently released. Over the years I got very close with Benu, Ben, and Adam. We were the four amigos! We danced and celebrated at each other’s Bar Mitzvahs. We were always laughing and having a great time together, trying our best not to disturb the class. Friends were my initial motivation for Hebrew school, but this changed as my interest and passion for Judaism grew. I had begun to come to Hebrew school because I had so many questions, and I felt it was my duty as a Jew to know what I had signed up for by my becoming a Bar Mitzvah. I have attended Jewish summer camp at Camp Modin over the past several years and my exposure to conservative and orthodox kids generated a ton of questions, which Rabbi Saks was only too happy to answer for me.
Last spring, I went to Israel with my family and a group of fellow Bet Ha’am members. This experience was truly inspirational to me. I had never felt so “Jewish” in a way. I could put on a kippah and walk all around the town and no one would even look twice at me. It was an overwhelmingly spiritual experience to attend shabbat services in the courtyard at David Ben-Gurion’s house, to observe the solemnness of Yom Hazikaron, to dance with joy in the streets celebrating Israel’s independence, to pray at the Western Wall, to share in the joy of a Bar Mitzvah on top of Masada. By the way…this trip will be happening again next April, and I highly recommend it.
I have watched my big sister go off to college and have seen how she has gotten involved with Hillel at Columbia/Barnard. I think that she’s super lucky to have the chance to make good Jewish friends and to be supported in continuing to observe shabbat and holidays. When I go off to college, the Hillel and the size of the Jewish population will definitely be a determining factor in choosing where I go.
As I continue on my Jewish journey, I have come to understand the importance of seeking out the Jewish community wherever I end up. I look forward to the future of seeking the answers to my many questions.
I would like to take a moment to thank my parents for their endless support…for giving me that little extra push to rehearse my Bar Mitzvah portion just one more time so that it was perfect on my big day, and for so many other times when they have kept me on task. I am truly grateful.
A final thank-you to all the teachers I’ve had along the way that have passed on so much of their knowledge that is so valuable to me today.
What is Sacred to Me, by Claire Anton
I started at Bet Ha’am Religious School in 2011, when I was in third grade. I remember being in a separate group from the rest of the kids. I was with Sidonia Summers and Lydia Stein because we started a few years later the group. We were starting to learn the basic letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the sounds they make, and a few simple vowels or “nikud.” That was only the beginning of five more years, leading up to my Bat Mitzvah and eight more years leading up to this moment. My upbringing has affected how I started religious school and what I knew, and what I have gained and learned about being Jewish, by not being surrounded by many other Jewish kids my age—other than attending the JCA preschool—because of where we live and not having a huge Jewish community compared to the states and cities of New York or New Jersey. I do believe that being a smaller community was very important to me because it has felt more like a family, rather than just people, to which I am very grateful.
In confirmation class, there was one exercise that we did that made us start to think more about what God was to us, and our beliefs. We got a paper that asked us what we thought God was and what God did for us in our life, or if we didn’t believe there was an impact on us. This got me thinking of what beliefs I had and what I thought God was. I think my belief is as simple as that I do believe that most things happen for a reason and that everything was supposed to happen, but in my mind, I am still not exactly sure if God has a direct impact on that or on myself every day.
All in all, confirmation prep and class for me has put things that I have learned over my eight years of religious school into perspective by going deeper into things we covered earlier in my religious education, or things that were too advanced to learn or think about, which has deepened my understanding of my religion, beliefs, practices, and values.
Confirmation Speech, by Jonna Rosenthal
What is sacred to me? In a sense, this question is asking what the most meaningful part of Judaism is in my life—what matters to me and what I consider holy. But growing up Jewish and labeling myself as a Jew in our society is beyond complicated. Being the token Jew forces you to face anti-Semitism. Whether it be the term “Jew” being a joke I heard through the hallways of middle school, to being the brunt of jokes about Jews, to being shown the swastika by my classmates, or even now to people with political power shaming Jews, I felt my religion made me a target. Jews have had it rough. We suffered through the Inquisition, slavery in Egypt, the Holocaust, and many more horrific examples. To a Jew reading through history, it is understandable for me to have felt as if no one wanted us. This feeling that no one wanted Jews lasted for a long time, but in the past years, I realized that being a Jew is who I am, and I should associate myself with people who are willing to accept that.
If I stop and think about it, this realization is all thanks to my community. The values, beliefs, and support that the Jewish community provides are unmatched. Even when I was little, I remember the feeling of arriving at Tot Shabbat and being warmly welcomed as we sat in a circle and celebrated. Other memories include showing up to services before the start of Sunday school and participating in interactive songs and prayers, or even looking out on the faces of people I call my community as I called them to worship on my Bat Mitzvah. I never realized what was so sacred to me about my religion, what fascinated and drew me in, what kept me going to Sunday school even after my parents said that I didn’t have to. I now realize that the Jewish community is constant. They have been with me as I grew from a smiley toddler to a quiet kid and now to a Jewish adult. My growth is thanks to all the teachers and other people in my community who taught me Hebrew, about our people’s past, and so much more information that I will always keep with me. By becoming a Bat Mitzvah, continuing my Jewish studies, and understanding that being Jewish makes me unique, I have grown to appreciate my community even more. I learned that being true to myself matters more than other people’s opinions and that my identity is more important to me than the jokes I might hear. Now, understanding who I am and knowing that I have a community to support me helps me to feel more powerful and confident in myself. I also have become a more outgoing person now that I realize that my Judaism is not just a side note but defines my values as a person. My realizations about my life as a Jew have also made me think about what my Jewish future holds. I always saw myself continuing my religion when I was older, but now I want to make sure that I keep my Judaism a vibrant and important part of my entire life. I want my future to be filled with the same values that are important to me right now and I know that this realization will help me with challenges in the rest of my life.
Another thing that is sacred to me is tied into the Jewish values I hold. The values of helping people through giving tzedakah to volunteering, being welcoming to everyone I meet, and most importantly, standing up for what matters to me. I have been fortunate enough to be given many opportunities to voice my opinion on issues from the Jewish lens. By being given this chance, I have lobbied twice to our state officials in the capital, started a project to help end gun violence with Kate, and stood up for my beliefs in so many other ways. Although these projects were through Jewish organizations, the values I have been taught in my community are the reason that I am able to stand up and try to put an end to problems I see. Chag Sameach.
Confirmation Speech, by Kate Siegel
Throughout my childhood I have thought of God as a protector that has watched over me through the obstacles that I have endured, an always existing presence that was by my side even when I felt the most alone. In my Jewish education, I have thought of having faith as being an unwavering devotion to God. Rather than doubting God, I should have a concrete belief that God has a plan for everything that occurs. I have grappled with my belief in God because at times when I have lost faith, I have wondered if my questioning of God makes me worthy of being Jewish. I feel like many of us, including myself, associate Judaism with the unbreakable faith that all of our obstacles are carefully orchestrated by God perhaps to test us, or to make us demonstrate our resilience. I have lived with the fear that if I doubt God’s actions and power then my faith is not as strong as others, and that I ultimately may not be as strong because I ask these questions.
I have more recently come to the realization that the values of Reform Judaism also translate to our faith and connection with God. That to strengthen our own belief we must ask the philosophical and thought-provoking questions that sometimes may not be able to be answered. Recently my uncle died, and I have spent nights asking God why he was taken so early, and how God could have left his three children to face life without a father. It is in these moments that God tests our ability to continue living life, and my faith wavered as I could not even begin to understand how God could allow this death to occur. I even went to the point of saying that God was no longer with me, or else my uncle would still be by my side. What defines my religion is my ability to tell God that he has made a mistake, but still maintain my faith. Because God does not control everything, individuals, people, and society are subjected to horrors that cannot simply be justified and explained by God. It is in these times that my faith has grown stronger because God is accompanying me in my journey. We become the people we are in part by experiencing pain and trouble. As a Reform Jew, it is my duty to not accept my belief in God as unwavering; it is by questioning that I can gain a deeper perspective on the world.
Confirmation Speech, by Lilliana Frantz
As I reflect back on my time here at Congregation Bet Ha’am, I think about all the fun times and struggles, and especially the questions. I have always been a very curious person, wondering why certain ideas work that way or how people perceive information differently. Being at Sunday school every morning at 9 o’clock helped me deepen my understanding of these questions and many more. It taught me important Jewish values and actions that will help lead and influence the rest of my life. Even though most Sunday mornings, where I really wanted to be was my bed, I still loved going to morning meeting where I would sing with my friends and going to Judaica and Hebrew classes where we learned about Jewish history, culture, and how to read the alphabet and vowels. Most importantly, the teachers were the ones who helped shape my Jewish identity. They were the ones who pushed me to try my hardest and encouraged me to be present during services. They created a fun and caring environment to make mistakes and expand on my Jewish learning experience.
As a class, we became part of the Kiddush club and went through the Ellis Island simulation which taught me about my family’s past. All of these small achievements and early morning Sunday school classes led up to one great accomplishment: my Bat Mitzvah. I remember standing up at the bema, looking out into the crowd filled with my friends and family. My hands were fiddling around each other as I began to sing the first prayer. This occasion was meaningful to me in many ways, one of them is how my Jewish upbringing affected my life. It helped me realize how important the community is to my everyday life and how learning Jewish values impacted me. Through Sunday school I learned about Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. I took action by helping inform my community about composting and how it will reduce the landfills. This was my Bat Mitzvah project and it was one stepping stone to later being part of the gardening club and green teams at my schools. Furthermore, one question I struggled with the most before my Bat Mitzvah was how does God affect people in different ways and why do people believe in a higher power? This got me thinking, ever since Rabbi answered that question back in 2015. I could always give a definition of why people believe in God, but I never felt the same connection as others may. Sunday school helped me grapple with my relationship with God and how it affects me.
In addition, this past year has influenced me the most. That is because of the L’Taken trip to Washington, DC. That trip taught me how to be an advocate for issues I believe in while connecting them to Judaism. Also, going through the confirmation class with the Rabbi introduced me to deeper topics in the Jewish text that I had never learned in previous years. If I didn’t have the Jewish community to support me through Sunday school, my Bat Mitzvah, and confirmation, I would have never gotten to be the person I am today, and I am forever grateful for all the people who made this happen. The most important takeaway from my time here at Bet Ha’am is to always ask questions whenever possible, as questions fuel meaningful conversations about significant topics. (Thank You for listening!) Happy Shavuot.
Confirmation Speech, by Sidonia Summers
My Bat Mitzvah was definitely the hardest thing I have ever done. The idea of chanting fourteen verses of Torah in front of all of my family, my friends, and other people from the congregation terrified me. I also didn’t think it was something I could possibly do. But I knew deep down that I could because of my family. Every time I saw my aunts and uncles, since the time I started coming here in third grade, they would always tell me how excited they were to come to my Bat Mitzvah someday. And when the time came, I knew I had to give it everything I had, just for them. It wasn’t until I was standing here, finished with the service looking out at them, that I realized how much it had changed me. I stepped so far out of my comfort zone and worked so hard that it actually changed who I was and how I saw myself. Looking back on what I had done, whenever I had a challenge, I knew that I could accomplish it. This was one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve ever had.
This was almost three years ago, and a lot has changed for me in terms of being Jewish in this time. I went from being scared to be in front of the congregation and thinking I couldn’t do it, to going to Washington, DC to lobby with Jewish teens from around the country about issues in the world that matter to me.
Going to Washington, DC, on the L’Taken trip this year was truly a life-changing experience. Just being in a room with hundreds of other Jewish teenagers who wanted to change the world was empowering. And talking to them and hearing about their experiences made me realize how different being Jewish for them is than it is for me. Hearing them say how they were the only Jewish kid in their entire town, or how people wrote anti-Semitic things on their lockers, or bullied them every day in school because they were Jewish, made me realize how truly lucky I am. How lucky I am to live in this city, to go to the school I go to, and to be able to come here to Bet Ha’am.