Confirmation Class Shabbat
Confirmation Essays & Teachings
Changing the World One Mitzvah at a Time
By: Ian Binnie
I am a Jew. Those four small words can mean so many different things to different people. In my bar mitzvah teaching, I spoke about the power of words. So I know that when someone says “I am a Jew”, those words convey power. For some people being a Jew might mean reading from the Torah or going to temple but for me being a Jew means having Shabbat dinner at my grandparents' house with family and freshly baked challah. The power of Judaism for me lies with my connection to my family. Still, I understand that Temple and Torah are important. In the Torah, there are 613 mitzvot, one of them being the mitzvah of helping one’s neighbor. I believe that this is an important mitzvah, especially in times like this. Helping your neighbor can also be interpreted to mean different things. For instance, my family and I volunteered with an amazing organization called PPE4NYC (Personal Protective Equipment for New York City). I was one of several donors and volunteers who have helped to make over 9,000 face shields for different people in need in New York City and the surrounding areas. Also, in the process of becoming a confirmand, we were asked to do a monthly community service that included helping out at a local animal shelter and gardening at the FDR gardens. Whether it be with my family or community a big part of who I am as a Jew lies in my connections to other people. I believe connections with others is one of the most important Jewish values and defines what it means to be a Jew for me. Being Jewish is different for every person, but it is part of my identity. Judaism shapes how I see the world and defines how the world sees me. I am a Jew
Without Community Would Judaism Exist?
I believe that community is important for me as a Jew. It is something that I think is crucial for living a Jewish life. Although you can pray by yourself, having a community that you can pray with helps my experience. In Judaism, there are also multiple times when a community is necessary to carry out a prayer or ceremony. The community can help to welcome people into the synagogue and allow people to feel more comfortable when praying with each other.
In my synagogue, the community is one of the most important things. Living a Jewish life often requires you to spend time praying with other Jews. As people pray together in the synagogue, they also experience important events that happen in the community. Whether it be a bar mitzvah or a wedding, the community always comes together to support one another. The community is also there to support each other through any tough times they may be going through. Many people rely on their Jewish community around them as a place where they feel comforted and welcome.
Throughout my life, the community has always played a large role. My family is very involved in many aspects of the Temple and is involved in the community. Growing up in the temple I have become more comfortable with the people around me when going to services or just being in the synagogue. The feeling that has grown since I was a kid helped me get through many things including my bar mitzvah. Seeing many people that I had known for a long time as well as my friends outside of the temple made me feel very relaxed about the whole thing.
Community is also important to me as a Jew because of the Jewish value of tikkun olam, repairing the world. During recent events in our country as well as many other times over the past years, our Temple community has come together and helped stand up for other marginalized groups. Social action and the pursuit of social justice is an important value of Judaism that is rooted in community.
Overall community has an enormous impact on my life as a Jew and on Jews around the world. The Jewish experience would not be the same without the group of people surrounding each other. Judaism would be much different without the impact of community.
Memories Before I Can Remember And That Will Shape My Future
I had my first Shabbat dinner before I could even remember. I knew what challah was before I even knew the word challah. I used to help my Grandma make her challah and cookies every week. I grew up knowing the traditions, but this conformation journey pushed me to explore, think about, and refine what was really important to me.
As a Jew I believe in tradition. This is a big part of who I am as a person. I believe Judaism is rooted so much in tradition. I personally connect to my religion through this importance of tradition in Judaism.
I believe this all started somewhere and we are now continuing what others have started. We may have changed or altered the traditions somewhat over time, but we still in many ways are continuing the rituals of Jews from generations ago. This is what is important to me in my core belief of my Judaism. However, to me, tradition is not just continuing what past generations have started. To me, it is much more than that. It is about building a bigger and stronger connection to our past.
I believe that having a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a big part of Jewish tradition. I stood up on the bimah with my grandparents and parents as they represent our past generations. They passed down the torah to me in front of all our friends and family. As I stood there facing our friends and the community I understood why this was such an important part of the service. I felt as if everyone most important to me was with me as I took the next step into my life.
In my family we have Shabbat dinner every Friday night at my grandparents’ house. This is a minhag that my family started from before I was born. This minhag is very meaningful to our family. It is so important that we even continue it while away on vacation. We also have many holiday traditions with extended family, and friends who are like family. When I have my own home I expect to bring my family to Shabbat dinner and if I am too far away I plan to have my own Shabbat dinner.
In the future, I hope to continue these traditions and create my own. I think it will be similar in the way that there will be some crossover between family traditions and Jewish traditions. As I grow up and have my own family, I hope to honor some longtime family customs while adding new ones. I believe it is important for me in my life to honor my Judaism and the generations that came before me. I have always been interested in learning conversational Hebrew. I hope to learn and some day teach my children.
Judaism is very important in my life. Focusing on the meaning of traditions with family and friends is very important in my life. Connecting with my Jewishness through traditions brings it all together for me. This I believe.
What do I believe as a growing Jewish human being?
I believe that being Jewish means having a deeper connection with myself and the Divine. It means having a better understanding of what I expect of myself as a Jewish woman and my standards as a human being. It means having the opportunity to pass on Judaism from one generation to the next and to celebrate the hardships our Jewish ancestors had to overcome for Judaism to survive today.
As a Jew, I am committed to many things and have morals to live by. Do I abide by them all? No, but I am only human. Being Jewish in today’s society is complicated sometimes. Jews from other conservative groups of Judaism would not consider me and my family Jewish because we are reformed, and also because my mom is not Jewish, which is different from their beliefs. I believe that practicing Judaism differently, based on our own morals is exactly what makes us Jewish. In the past, Jews were murdered for their differences and beliefs. Our differences compared to other religions is what makes us different in the first place. It’s what makes us Jewish.
In today’s society, not all Jews have the same beliefs. All Jews are Jewish but not all Jews believe in the same things. For example, all Jews have Torah, but not all Jews study Torah. All Jews have the 635 commandments, but not all Jews follow them. I still eat pork and shellfish when the commandments say that Jews must eat kosher. The ninth commandment explains, "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor". This means that Jews must not lie. I don’t know one Jewish person in my family that has not lied at least once.
As a human being, sometimes it is difficult to follow all of the rules that are expected of us and to meet the expectations that we hold for ourselves. Making mistakes is what makes us human. We live and we learn. Learning from our mistakes can deeper our understanding of empathy and or sympathy for ourselves and others. Being understanding towards others is very important when it comes to being Jewish. One example is when we give Tzedakah. We give Tzedakah to those in need. Giving Tzedakah is one of the 365 commandments. Giving to those in need can deeper our connection with the Divine
As a Jew why are we obligated, or at least obligated to feel like we must take part in these commandments?
I ask myself, what do I expect of myself as a human being and how does practicing Judaism help me to achieve these expectations? At this age, I am not very sure what I expect of myself. I know I want to live a long fulfilling life, but I’m not sure exactly what that means and what it will mean to me in the future. Judaism can help me find my path in the future because it is something that I can have faith in and depend on. With Judaism, I can create and strengthen my connection with the Divine and have an understanding of the expectations I will have for myself as a growing Jew and human being. This I believe.
I believe that being Jewish is being a part of something bigger than myself. I am 15 years old. I am shy but outgoing. I am private and deeply connected to my friends. I am smart but I don’t always do everything I need to do. I have strong opinions and that can open me up to the world but also keeps me from knowing parts of the world. I am Jewish but sometimes I wonder what role it has in my life.
At a young age my parents decided that I should go to Hebrew school. I didn’t always love to do that because it frequently meant that I couldn’t be with my friends. When it was time for me to become a bat mitzvah there were moments where I resisted, maybe the rabbi though it wouldn’t even happen, but in the end I felt changed as a bat mitzvah, I felt like I had accomplished something. I was proud of myself and I had learned about myself and what I was capable of. After becoming a bat mitzvah, it was my decision to continue with confirmation. My mother brought it up to me and it seemed like a good idea. I thought I could learn more about my Judaism. Something else was also true for me. My peers at synagogue had become my friends.
Confirmation was a different kind of learning. It was the opportunity to think and hear about different topics, share opinions and expand my own perspective. Ive noticed that being Jewish frequently requires that I be uncomfortable before I can grow and be comfortable. When my confirmation class did community service together, I frequently found myself outside of my comfort zone. When we served dinner to the homeless, taught the seniors to gamble, well we taught them to play dreidel, or worked in an organic garden I was able to understand a person without a home is very much like each of us, that I was capable of being a leader and giving back to seniors, and even if I never were to think to work on a farm planting and working outdoors and in the earth it was rewarding, eye opening and interesting. When we travelled to the Touro Synagogue in Newport Rhode Island I learned the history of my people in America. When we went to Washington dc, we ended up going to services where the prayers were translated into ASL (American Sign Language).
But mostly as I shared all these experiences with my friends and the rabbi, I became aware of the fact that I am part of something bigger than myself. That’s what my Judaism means to me. This is what I believe, that to be Jewish I will sometimes have to be uncomfortable in order to be learning about myself, my Judaism and my word. I committed to making a difference in this world and I always must remember that I'm part of something bigger. This I believe.
Kindness and Perseverance
By Aden Vuillemot
What “I am Jewish” means to me is that there is a community full of caring people that are always there for you and we share a core set of values. I am Jewish also means that I believe in God and a core set of beliefs, two of those beliefs are to be charitable and kind to anyone no matter the differences between us. Tzedakah means a lot to me because I have realized that when I am helping someone out whether it’s with food, money or labor the roles could be switched very easily and therefore since I believe in being charitable I think that Tzedakah is something everyone should participate in and is one of my core beliefs. Another one of my core beliefs that is part of my Jewish identity is my community and the people around me. I think that a community is one of the most important things for anyone to have because a real community is there for you when you are in need or hurt and to help you get along with your life when something happens.
There are many more core beliefs that mean a lot to me such as being accountable and responsible which I had to learn and work on during my bar mitzvah and which I’m still working on now and probably will be working on for the rest of my life. Another core belief that’s important to me being Jewish is that I don’t discriminate people based on their wealth or their looks, which for me ties into community and charity as what makes me care about someone is their personality and who they are not there wealth or looks. My final main core belief that really affects me is going to services, which I do really need to work on because I almost never go, almost never, and it’s something I want to start doing because I feel like it’s important and would make me overall happier and I could learn a lot at services. Those are the many core beliefs that make me Jewish that really affect me. For me being Jewish is something to be proud of for many different reasons. One of them is the history of the Jews throughout time. We were persecuted and hated in many different time periods and places and even through all the hate and persecution we survived and didn’t let go of our belief in God and our values. No matter what happened in Germany in the 1930/40’s or Russia in the 19th century we stood strong and didn’t let our beliefs be swayed by hate or violence and for me that makes me proud to be Jewish. Another reason I am proud of is my core beliefs that make me Jewish which I mentioned and talked about earlier. For me being Jewish isn’t just saying I’m Jewish, it’s taking action on what I mentioned above. Whether it’s volunteering in our confirmation program, taking responsibility for when I mess up, doing Tzedakah and donating money or attending services which I really need to work on, that is what “I am Jewish” really means to me; sticking to core Jewish values, taking action based on these values and realizing when I can take responsibility and try to improve myself.
The Confirmation Program at Congregation Emanuel of the Hudson Valley is for young adults in 9th & 10th grade (or the equivalent) who seek to continue to explore their Jewish education. Through ongoing activities including dynamic dinners and discussions with Rabbi Yael Romer, community-based social justice participation, and becoming an aide in the religious school, confirmands are encouraged to develop as socially active, mindful, and empowered Jewish adolescents and adults. Topics explored include subjects relevant to the lives of young Jewish adults, sourcing from newsmedia, social media, film, art, and history.
Confirmation is built around participation. There is no homework or deadlines. CEHV understands that teens are chronically overwhelmed and overcommitted. Our confirmation program works within the culture of adolescence to foster meaningful and empowering growth. We are consistently reviewing and evaluating the program to ensure it is not another source of stress for our valued youth. Our most valued feedback is from the participants, whose input fuels the ongoing co-creation of our program. The completion of Confirmation is celebrated with a special ceremony at the end of the school year.
The confirmation program includes a Shabbaton trip, which is open to all enrolled individuals. Locations for the trip have included Newport, Rhode Island and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with additional future locations currently being explored. Trips have included visits to the Touro Synagogue, the nation's oldest synagogue, and Congregation Temple Beth-El, the thriving, historic synagogue founded and led by Black Jewish rabbis and leaders. The trip focuses on increasing awareness and exposure to diversity within Jewish communities and Jewish experiences, as well as activating and galvanizing youth to "pray with their feet" by taking part in events focused on community justice.
Mazel Tov Confirmation Class Graduates 2018-2019
2019 Shabbaton Trip
Newport, Rhode Island
The trip included a visit to the Touro Synagogue, the oldest Jewish house of worship built in the United States. Confirmands led their own Havdalah service and focused on developing and deepening their connection to their Jewish identity, soul, and history through meditation, discussion, creative expression, and connecting with diverse community members and peers.