I Am Proud of My Cultural Identity

On the first of October, I attended “Dancin’ in the Streets: A Simchat Torah Celebration”, at the Sixth & I synagogue in Northwest Washington, D.C. Simchat Torah means “rejoicing in the Torah.” Simchat (or Simhat) Torah is an important Yom tov (Jewish holiday). A few days prior to the event, I met up with Rabi Shira, who was gracious enough to educate me about the meaning and traditions of Simchat Torah. She informed me that during this holy celebration, Jews gather to conclude the reading of the Torah. I was told it was customary to for every man to participate in the celebration by accepting an Aliyah. Aliyah is the honor of being called to recite one of the blessings over the Torah, according to tradition. After they finish the final Aliyah, they immediately remove the three scrolls from the ark and begin reading them.

Starting with the first scroll. This scroll contains the last paragraph of the Torah, at the end of Deuteronomy. Immediately following is the first chapter and part of the second from the Book of Genesis. After the portion from Genesis is read from the second scroll, the Mafir, who is the last person to be called up to the Torah, reads a section of Numbers from the remaining scroll. This is done impart so that they conclude the studies of the Torah (God’s infinite wisdom), then expeditiously commence again, this time in the quest of discovering new interpretations. I was told that during the celebration it is also customary to raise the Torah high and dance around the synagogue several times. It is also important to note that only on important holidays or celebrations (e.g., Bar Mitzvah) is the Torah removed from the ark. The day of the event arrived. My enlightening conversation with Rabi Shira, allowed me to understand the celebration as it took to the streets.

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Though I was not present during the actual conducting of the Simchat Torah (which begins early in the morning in synagogues all around the world), I was able to take part in the wonderfully vibrant street celebration. From music, to food and singing and dancing, it was a lively time. The event was held at 7:30 p.m. At this time, many had finished spending their time at the synagogue, conducting readings and prayers and celebrations. On this holiday many do not attend work. There were about 250 (I estimate) proud Jewish decedents celebrating and embracing their rich heritage. While I took part and enjoyed the celebration with others, I noticed something peculiar and of interest. I noticed that while everyone, including myself were gathered in multiple circles surrounding other circles, those in the main inner circle holding the Torah were men. Once I arrived at home, I further investigated and discovered that it is strictly forbidden, according to Halachah, for women to dance with the Torah. Nevertheless, this was an amazing and enlightening experience. For someone who is deeply interested in the Holocaust and learning about new cultures, I was overwhelmed with elation.

This experience is one that I will always cherish and wish to attend again. From the kind friendly faces who encouraged me to join-in the festivities and be a part of their tradition, to the wonderfully cheerful melodies of their folk songs, I cannot thank them enough for allowing me to feel welcome and a part of what was a new world for me. Research: There are Holocaust films and there this is Schindler’s List. To me, Schindler’s List is one of the most remarkable war movies ever produced. To summarize the three-and-a-half-hour spectacle, the story takes place in Nazi occupied Poland. It follows the life of a German businessman and member of the Nazi party, Oskar Schindler, during World War II. During the war, he becomes an unlikely Good Samaritan for 1200 Jews during the inhumane Nazi reign. He is able to accomplish such a deed by employing them to work in his enamelware factory in Plaszow, Poland. Schindler is depicted throughout the film as a man who found himself in a unique position and rose to the occasion. Power and ignorance is a dangerous combination for a leader to possess.

Viciousness is epitomized throughout the film by the character named Amon Goeth. He was in charge of the forced labor camp at Plaszow in which many of Schindler’s Jews worked and lived. Apart from emotions conveyed through the action of the main characters, color also had a profound impact in the story-telling of good versus’ evil. I believe the most telling is that of a little girl in a red coat promenading through the streets of chaos alone and desultory. This in a sense compels Schindler during the eradication of the Jewish ghetto. Because of this little girl he now identifies with, these once faceless masses all around him, which turn into palpable human beings. It is understandable to see how a film of such emotional depth about one of the world’s most gruesome genocides, would make an everlasting impact on the world. When the movie comes to an end, one watches the surviving Jews of Schindler’s legacy alongside with those who wonderfully portrayed them, and there is a sense of elation.

However, that elation is transitory, when one considers that this movie is in memory of all the Jews that lost their lives. I learned a lot of things from the movie, but I think the thing which has really stuck with me is the fact that one person can make such a tremendous difference in the world and have such a great impact on so many people. Schindler really wasn’t a very nice man, and yet he risked his life to save those once faceless human beings. Schindler was not your typical hero, and yet he still achieved the heroic. Through such a remarkable and compelling movie, one can learn so much about the value of life that many of us take for granted. This movie showed me that through the onerous persecution the Jews of Europe faced, they prevailed until the very end. Jews were wrongly cast as “vermin” and “inferior race” and because of this notion, they paid the ultimate price.

Life. And yet, I cannot view Schindler’s List, as a melancholy film. On the contrary, this is an intensely powerful, life-affirming, historically important biography that is worthy of telling. The movie daringly proclaims the unimaginable truth that one person can indeed make a difference. Summary: With diverse cultures comes conspicuous differences. All cultures have their uniqueness, which makes us curious about each other, on the basis of faith and other differences. My culture, for instance is heavily revolved around the Christian faith. As a result of our Christian fundamentals, we reference the bible and more particularly the New Testament. Jewish culture, on the on the other hand, practices the religion of Judaism and focus solely on the Old Testament. Though we may have conspicuous religious differences, we have plenty of similarities.

One is coming together of families and family life. Both my culture and Jewish culture believe in the common philosophy of family first. We are both excellent and hard workers. We believe in instilling the importance of school and career paths in our members. Many Jews and Africans find themselves excelling in academics and attending top-notch institutions of learning. As a result of creating my Cultural Identity Notebook, I am experiencing the pride and blessed feelings I first truly experiences when I started my undergraduate studies. It took me so long to embrace my authentic African heritage, due to the lack of representation in predominately White schools and towns in which I lived. However, while working on this assignment, I felt nothing but pride and admiration for the family and culture I was (am) brought up in. This project further infers the reasoning as to why I do not like to identify as Black and insist on being identified as a Ghanaian-American or African American. As I embark on a trip to Ghana this December, I want to dig deeper into the various cultures practices that make up Ghana, the cuisine, landscape and my own family. I would document my trip and experiences through videos, journals and photos. Learning about the Jewish culture has been an exciting and worthwhile experience for me.

From attending Torah Simchat to watching Schindler’s List, this assignment has challenged me to enduringly step out of my comfort zone and embark on learning about a culture that has interested me for years now. Watching the film, has given me a heightened sense of appreciation and admiration of the Jewish culture. I feel as though now I want to incorporate fun, friendly, interactive celebrations of the cultures of my future fellow students. There is more than meets the eye. We are not just Blacks, Whites, Asians and Latino. We are citizens with cultures from around the world. Having a day once a year in which my students either make a dish from their culture or from another culture and teach us a few facts about the other cultures would be a wonderful way of broadening the horizons of students. As a future elementary educator, I have the power to make a difference in my students’ lives. I want to make sure they grow up with a sense of understanding and appreciation of those around them and how uniquely different we are when we break the skin barrier and delve deeper into our heritage.

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