Being Jewish in a Non-Jewish Community

By: Seth Finkle

I am Jewish. I had a Bar Mitzvah in Israel and traveled there on Birthright. I attended Hebrew school, and at college I was an active member of URI Hillel, including Student Board President. In my adult life, I was employed by the JCC in Washington, DC. There I worked at Theater J (an award-winning playhouse located at the JCC in DC), assisted with the Washington Jewish Film Festival (one of the largest Jewish Film Festivals in the country), and was a teacher in their preschool.

I am also active in the Jewish Community here in Rhode Island. I help out with Alliance events, sit in on several Alliance committees, and serve on the Board of Directors at URI Hillel.

However, my activity in the Jewish Community has not always been this active. I grew up in a very small city in upstate New York where there was a small Jewish population. We had no active Jewish youth group, schools stayed open during the Jewish High Holidays, and there were only six Jews in my high school when I was a senior. My Bar Mitzvah class consisted of me and another awkward teenage boy. It was not always easy growing up in a non-Jewish community. Sometimes on the second day of Rosh Hashanah we were barely able to have a minyon.  The few Jewish families in town grew very close, and the joke was that since us kids were all around the same age, we should date each other—since, well, Jews should date Jews. (This never happened; we all dated non-Jews growing up.)

Was I always proud to be a Jew in a non-Jewish Community? Could I believe that this area once had a thriving Jewish Community with youth groups and families actually needed tickets for the High Holidays? The answer is a huge NOPE! My youth was spent not really knowing where I belonged in the Jewish world. This led to some feelings of self-doubt. However, growing up Jewish in a non-Jewish community shaped me into the proud Jewish adult I am today. I have some very interesting stories to share, so I hope you will join me on this journey of rediscovery. If anyone out there has a similar story, I would love to hear from you.

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