The author, Michal Leibowitz, is seated in the bottom row on the right.
Editor’s Note: This article is the grand prize winner of the Fresh Ink For Teens writing contest. More than 70 contestants from around the country and Israel answered the following question: “What Do You Want Jewish Community Leaders To Know About Teens Today?" The winner receives a $200 Amazon gift card.
We are not what you think we are. We are not too-short skirts, not skinny-jean thighs. We are not parties, not tank tops, not poster children for everything you don't believe in.
We are evolutionary phenomena, cell phones stitched to our fingers with something stronger than thread. We are pious one day, heretical the next. We are questions and answers and wondering if there is anything to believe in. We are The Jewish Week and The New York Times and the feeling you get when the world has flipped sideways overnight. We are shades of gray.
Mostly, we are confused.
We are people in bodies still a little too tight, still a little too empty. We are Jewish, but no one ever asked what we wanted, we are glad we were never given the choice because we are scared we would have chosen wrong. We are machines that came without manuals, toaster ovens you put together a little too quickly.
It is not your job to fix us.
We are not broken, we are something new and different and beautiful. We are nectarines in winter, flames in an airless room. We are not supposed to exist like this, here, in this strange in-between. Not children, not adults, not atheists, not believers. Both Jewish, and modern, we are proud of our roots and ashamed of our names.
Michal. My name is Michal. It marks me, forever, as something other.
"Mickayl?" people ask, as they try to twist their tongues around the syllables.
"It's Michal. M-I-C-H-A-L."
"Oh, Michael. Where are you from?”
“New York,” I say.
“Right, but where are you from?”
I am only half lying. I am from chicken soup, challah rolls, the ghettos of Latvia pre-World War I. I am from America, from liberty, from Starbucks coffee and old blue jeans.
I am from a place where education has failed. My peers and I have not learned to live as Jewish Americans, have learned only to live as Jews. And Americans. We spend hours learning Talmud, but when was the last time you ever heard a goy mention the Talmud? Some days we are more Jewish than Americans, most days it is the other way around.
Today, we are balancing more than you know. We are cramming two people into one body, trying to reconcile ourselves with ourselves. We don’t fully believe these identities can truly be melded, that there can really be synthesis in this generation.
Yes, you can try to guide us. Yes, you can show us your path.
But guiding is not the same as steering, warnings are not the same as cautionary tales and children are not their parents. Let us make our own choices. Let us make our own mistakes. Let us struggle, for a while, in these neck deep waters.
Let us choose to find land on our own.