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My Jewish Journey - Rosh Hashanah day 1, 2019

LilyFish Gomberg


Good Morning! If you haven’t yet met me, my name is Lily Fisher Gomberg, I go by LilyFish & I use she and they pronouns.

This is my eighteenth time attending Rosh Hashannah services at Dorshei Tzedek, so I know that these Jewish Journeys usually end with; “and that’s how I ended up here.” But- I’m only 21. I didn’t end up here, I started here.

My mom, Diana, and my dad, Richard, joined Dorshei Tzedek when I was three. Judaism was important to each of them, although in different ways. My mom grew up in a reform shul and, as she said in her “Jewish Journey” speech 14 years ago, Judaism was always very important to her family. She wanted my younger sister Maya and I to grow up with a strong, value-oriented, Jewish community. My father’s family is also strongly identified as Jewish, although more culturally than religiously. He didn’t attend Hebrew school, but his family’s Jewish values are important to them. My parents met in the Kosher kitchen at their university, and six years later they were married by the same Rabbi who had Bat Mitzvah’d my mom.

A few years after that, I was born, and that same rabbi performed my Simchat Bat.

My earliest memories of being Jewish revolve around shabbat with my family, preschool at Temple Rayyim, and the semi-traumatic discovery that not everyone in the world celebrates Hanukkah. We joined Dorshei Tzedek in 2001, so from the time I was three, my Jewish life was strongly associated with singing and dancing to Mi chamocha at all-ages erev Shabbat services and attending Hebrew school.

My relationship with Dorshei Tzedeck’s religious school has changed over the sixteen- yes, sixteen!- years I’ve been there. In elementary school, I went from loving to learn about Jewish Values and Torah stories to absolutely dreading having to struggle over the Hebrew letters and memorize prayers. I remember feeling so ashamed when my sister Maya, who is two years younger than me, could read Hebrew more fluently than I could.

While I hated learning Hebrew, I still loved learning about holidays, Jewish history, etc. I remember when I was in sixth grade, Kitah vav, Rabbi Toba challenged my class to make 100 blessings in one day. I took her up on the challenge, and dutifully I brought a clipboard to middle school so I could record what I was blessing; from the bus that brought me to school, to my super-cool three hole-punch that clipped right into my binder, to the cookies I ate during my lunch block. I remember the triumph of getting to the number 100, and of bringing my list to Hebrew school the following Tuesday, and how proud I was when Rabbi Toba gave me miriam’s timbrel.

Religious school wasn’t my only connection to Jewish life during those years. In the fourth grade, some people from Camp JRF- now Camp Havaya, the Reconstructionist summer camp- presented to the religious school to recruit campers. I remember watching the video projected onto the wall of kids splashing in the water and flying across a zip line, and I went home that night and declared to my parents that I was going to Camp JRF that summer. They weren’t sure about sending their nine-year-old to sleep-away camp, but they took the leap of faith and let me go. My dad says he knew it was the right choice the following February when I told him I was having dreams about camp every night.

Throughout my childhood, Camp was a place I went for three to seven weeks every summer to feel safe, included, and loved. Regardless of what social traumas I was enduring here in Newton, my camp friends were a facebook groupchat message or phone call away. The Jewish values and the motto of “Howie Bee” made camp a safe and welcoming place for me.

But I still dreaded the Hebrew part of Hebrew school. Finally, in sixth grade, after enduring my whining for years, my parents told me that I didn’t have to keep going to Hebrew school - unless, that is, I wanted a Bat Mitzvah.

I wanted a Bat Mitzvah.

I’m so glad I made that choice, because in seventh grade I remembered how to love Religious school and Jewish learning. I even ended up pushing my class to come back to Hebrew school up through tenth grade, when we wrote Spiritual Autobiographies, or, as our teacher Gina Fried dubbed them, “Spirautos”!

After tenth grade, my class didn’t come back to Hebrew school, so I started working at CDT Religious school as a Madricha, teaching assistant. My first trip to Israel was the summer after 10th grade with Camp. In high school I got interested in Jewish history- my high school Junior Thesis was about FDR and the Holocaust. Judaism was also incredibly important to me during my college search, which, of course, led me to Brandeis University.

Between high school and Brandeis, I took a “gap semester” with Rustic Pathways to break out of the “liberal jewy Newton bubble”, and went to Latin America on their service and immersion program. It was a great program, but I really didn’t get along with the six American students who were my peers. Suddenly, the people I spent time with didn’t share my liberal, inclusive views. They used the word “gay” as an insult and one boy even told me at one point that if I wanted to speak Spanish I should “go back to Mexico.” While we were in a spanish immersion program. In the Dominican Republic. It was also the first time I faced real antisemitism- one of the students eventually got kicked out of the trip after I reported him for making holocaust jokes. I felt excluded and miserable for part of that trip, but it did reaffirm my commitment to my values - I stuck to them even outside of my liberal jewy Newton bubble.

After my “gap semester” though, I was very ready to dive back into the liberal jewy bubble- but this time at Brandeis. I have no doubt that I belong at Brandeis, and my Jewish identities are a huge part of that. I’m the President of the Brandeis Reconstructionist Organization “BRO” the only Recon group on a college campus, I’m heavily involved in my Jewish sorority, and my Academic study is focused on Jewish sexuality - with the goal of eventually becoming a Reconstructionist Rabbi. It was a Brandeis professor who suggested last summer that I go to Svara’s Queer Talmud Camp, which is a queer yeshiva where I learned to love Talmud study.

This past summer, I jumped headfirst into Jewish Activism- I interned (and am still interning) at Keshet, a Queer Jewish organization, and I got involved with Never Again the Jewish movement against ICE, and I was even arrested this past July for “civil disobedience”. When I got my phone back after the arrest, I remember reading a facebook post from a parent of a student I teach in Hebrew school saying that they were proud that their child had models of how to live a value-based life.

I was floored by that reaction. I knew that I was doing the right thing, and I knew that civil disobedience fell in line with Dorshei Tzedeck’s values, but I hadn’t thought of being arrested as something that would make me a role model. I hadn’t even considered my role as a religious school teacher when I made the decision to participate in the protest. I am so proud to be that model for our kids.

As I mentioned earlier, this is now my sixteenth year at CDT religious school. When I look back at my experience growing up at the Hebrew school and at the experience that our children have now, I see a lot of similarities. The commitment to giving Jewish text contemporary meaning and the strong focus on social justice work come to mind especially- I’m planning to do the same “fair-trade chocolate” project with my Kitah Hey students this year that I did when my Hebrew school class was in 5th grade.

I also see differences- even in the five years I’ve been working there rather than attending as a student, teachers have gotten more and more support in curriculum building and students have more opportunities for individualized support, which I’m sure would have helped me learn Hebrew letters and prayers with much less frustration.

As a teacher, I love watching students open up and discover the magic of Judaism. Watching eyes light up when they get into a song or dance, or the excitement of having a really great thought during hevrutah, partner torah learning, makes waking up at 8am on Sundays easy. Well, maybe not easy, but doable.

Looking back, the love of Judaism I learned at Dorshei Tzedeck’s religious school, at Camp Havaya, and from my family have made me the person I am. These communities have supported and sustained me through the ups and downs.

This isn’t a typical Jewish journey speech. I’m not going to say,  “and that’s how I ended up here,” because like I said, I’m 21, I haven’t ended up anywhere. I don’t know whether I’ll be in Boston in two years, much less whether I’ll be at Dorshei. What I can say is that wherever I do end up, Dorshei Tzedeck gave me a base for my Jewish identity, and space to grow.

Dorshei helped make me, ME. So thank you. L’Shanah Tovah Umetukah!

Thu, March 23 2023 1 Nisan 5783