My Jewish identity by Milli Rose Rubin

Music and community is what comes to mind when I think of my Jewish background and
identity. My Jewish identity has been through many chapters growing up. It has not always been a
linear process and there were and still are, parts of the religion itself that resonate more than
others.

Growing up, my mum did not expose me to my Jewish identity particularly. I always knew
that it was in my family, however, we didn’t “practice” traditions or consume our days with
discussion on it. My mum always said that she didn’t want me to be shaped in a way that
would give me a belief before I had a choice to make them on my own. As a child, I simply
went to school and embarked on after school activities, like karaoke and singing class. In
fact, my mother took me out of school in my primary years, and we lived in Amsterdam and
Tanzania in Africa for quite a large chapter of it. I suppose my education was a cultural one,
allowing me to explore different people and environments, as opposed to having a consistent
Jewish community that I could call “a second home”.

It was not until we moved to London at age 11, that I was presented with the Jewish culture.
From my perspective, I assumed that Judaism would be pretty black and white, you are
either religious or remain to not participate at all. It was not until we joined a synagogue,
Finchley Reform Synagogue, that I realised that Jewish identity can be interpreted in so
many different ways.


Mum and I became members at Finchley Reform synagogue, and we were soon notified of
the multiple Jewish services that take place weekly. I went to one of their many, Friday night
services. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I anticipated just sitting down and listening to
someone speak, with not any direct involvement. I suppose I thought I would blend in to the
crowd and observe the situation.

 

To my surprise, the service consisted of songs, accompanied by live instrumentalists. Some even had dance moves, associated with certain parts of the song. Although I was a little out of my depth here, I loved the fact that the community were and are so in tune with one another. A lot of the songs were in Hebrew, and I felt like I was learning a new language in a creative and interactive way. It was one of those memories that stood out dramatically to me, because I was so shocked by how warm and
approachable it was.

I suppose I built up my Jewish Identity to be a place built on rules,
regulations and beliefs. FRS provides a space that takes away those barriers and invites
controversial discussion, which was something that I never associated with religion.

After each service, there was a long table, filled with food, some bought by other members at
FRS. I hadn’t really ever been a part of a community that all did something to contribute
towards a rewarding outcome, like this. Even the food was a new experience but everyone
else seemed to be so familiar with it all. It was like learning a new language. I would fill my
plate up with a few mouthfuls from each sweet and savoury category.

Recognising Judaism within my family ritual

As a part of my weekly ritual, I would go and see my grandma (Booba in Hewbrew), based
in North London, with my mum every Sunday. She would always have a challah bread roll
with butter or cream cheese ready and waiting for my mum and I. Her anoux table had
perfectly placed ornaments that presented her jewish identity, like a golden menorah.

Furthermore, she would talk about her week, and how she popped over to her local
synagogue to play cards. I was still fathoming how the community seemed to be such a
highlight for myself and my grandma. She will teach me the strategic tactics when playing
cards and invite me along too. She also came along to the services at my synagogue, and
smiled from ear to ear, absorbing the music and singing that would fuel everybody with
energy.

Ten years later, I still go to FRS and participate. For me, it is driven by music and community,
which has been a necessary place for me to plant myself, when chapters have been
unstable on a personal level growing up.

Even if I am not as consistent as others in going to synagogue and performing Jewish
traditions, just to know that I have a base that I can activate my Jewish identity, as and when
I choose too, is comforting. Overall, I guess my Jewish identity is not something that I
consider to be an intense practice, but one that reminds me of my childhood. I connect
through music, a place where I see familiar faces and remind me of what was important to
my grandma Booba too, within a safe space.

 

Written by Milli Rose Rubin

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