I liked Vered; I liked how it sounded and I liked that it meant “rose” in Hebrew, like my real name
Hebrew school, everyone had a Jewish name. I didn’t. My name was special and unique; I liked it and liked the fact that it meant “beautiful rose” in my mother’s native tongue. My morah (I thought she was so big, but looking back, she was probably something like 22 years old) told me we could translate it into Hebrew. I told her that my name meant “beautiful rose” and she said she could call me Vardit, Yafit, Vered, Varda, Shoshana, or even Raizel. I chose Vered, even after she told me that Shoshana might be a more popular choice. I liked Vered; I liked how it sounded and I liked that it meant “rose” in Hebrew, like my real name.
I loved going to Hebrew school. I came home singing the songs, asked my mother to light Shabbos candles, and told my parents parshah stories. When each holiday rolled around, I insisted that we celebrate. Rabbi Samberg and his family were a huge help in providing me with meaningful Jewish experiences: we didn’t build our own succah, but we got to visit Rabbi Samberg’s gorgeous succah. We bought apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah and I taught everyone to sing “Dip the Apple.” I even insisted that my father fast on Yom Kippur! When Pesach came around, I informed my parents that it wasn’t enough to have a Seder; we needed to eat matzah for all eight days, and we couldn’t keep any bread in the house. My parents went along with my requests. As time went by, they became more and more curious about what I was learning. My father started learning with both Rabbi Samberg and a local avreich, Rabbi Lerner. My mother, too, wanted to learn more. She began learning about Yiddishkeit with Rebbetzin Samberg.
When I started first grade, my parents enrolled me in public school. I did continue attending the Bais Yaakov Hebrew school every Sunday, which made me feel very different than my friends in school during the rest of the week. On Sundays, my special learning time had its own rhythm, friends, and community; I was learning more and more about Judaism. But during the week, there were only two Jewish children in my whole school. In addition, I think I was the only student who didn’t have a TV at home. That actually wasn’t a Jewish thing; my parents felt strongly that watching television would, to quote them, “make our kids dumb.” Instead, our house was full of books. We were exposed to lots of history, literature, and science.
Over the next three years, we became more and more careful about halachah. I started learning with Rebbetzin Samberg on Wednesday evenings, in addition to Sunday school. During my free time, I read through the entire Little Midrash Says series. We even started keeping Shabbos.
We started talking more seriously about my conversion. I was eight years old, and I was excited to join the Jewish nation. I wanted to be like the Sambergs and the other wonderful families in my small Jewish community. I wanted the Torah to be mine. I wanted to be part of this special nation, like all my friends in Hebrew school. The Torah was perfect and I knew it was the way to live the most perfect life possible, and I wanted that for myself. I knew the Torah taught us how to become better people, kinder people. There was nothing in public school that convinced me that their way was better. To the contrary, I wanted to be Jewish.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 936)
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