Essay: Religion and my not-quite-quarter-life crisis

Melissa Holzberg, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

I wasn’t allowed to be in Girl Scouts.

Between the ages of eight and 13, I spent two days during the week at Hebrew School – and then went to temple every Saturday. And, like many people, I hated being forced to go to religious school.

Instead, I wanted to be in Girl Scouts, go to dance lessons every night of the week and participate in the same after-school activities as my friends. But, I was raised in a conservative Jewish family, and that meant religious school first, other activities second.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Melissa Holzberg

I recently celebrated my 20th birthday and immediately had a minor, not-quite-quarter-life crisis. I began to question if I spent my childhood well, and if I was at the right place in my life now. Through many worried phone calls to my parents, breakdowns to my roommate and suitemate, I realized that all of us go through this. We question if our parents made the right decisions while raising us. We wonder if we could do it all again, would we end up where we are now?

What I’ve come to realize, is that for much of my life after my bat mitzvah at 13, I distanced myself from my religion – which had been my only constant up until that point. I never purposely told someone that I wasn’t religious, or that I wasn’t Jewish. But I tried to create an identity that made me “just like everyone else.”

During high school, I was able to participate in more extracurricular activities. I joined my high school newspaper, danced three times a week and filled my weekends with seeing friends – not going to temple. When I got to college, I signed up for every student organization that sounded interesting, and I tried to be the over-scheduled person that I was for the previous four years of my life.

While I enjoyed that, by the time the high holidays came around my freshman year, I felt a pang of guilt. I hadn’t signed up to go to services on campus because I had spent so long trying to create a person with no time for religion. I wasn’t willing to accept that I could be both: involved at school, and also religious.

The day before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, two of my new friends told me they were going to go to services at Hillel. I ended up joining them last minute because I knew it would make my parents proud, and it would be the “right” thing to do. After that first service though, I realized that it really was the right thing for me. I slowly saw how my religion, and my formal education, could coexist. Now, I go to Hillel services for every high holiday, and enjoy Passover seders with the Jewish community at GW.

I’ve made decisions that allow me to be connected to my faith without having to wear a Star of David necklace every day. I actively went to a University with a relatively high Jewish population, and I joined a sorority that was full of diverse women of all different races and religions – many of whom I spend the high holidays with. While this doesn’t make me religious, it makes me feel connected to how I was raised.

That’s not to say I’ve never questioned my faith. Almost two years ago now, I started dating a boy who was born into a Catholic family but is a self-declared atheist. If you ever want to have a not-quite-quarter-life crisis, maybe explain that one to your Jewish grandparents, and then sit with that boy for two hours in a Sonic parking lot debating evolution. Or, sit in a history class and respond to questions about how you could “possibly” understand other people’s beliefs or evolution because you’re Jewish.

When people you are close to, and people you hardly know, question you on how you can understand the world because of your faith, a decision has to be made. Either you can say what they want to hear to end the conversation, or you can choose to believe in something that’s been the only constant in your life. I chose, and continue to choose, the latter.

After the age of 13, my religion became my choice. I don’t wear my religion on my sleeve, but it is an integral part of who I am and how I live my life.

I want to work in journalism, meaning I want to question things for the rest of my life. That means questioning if elected officials are lying, and if different stories line up with what I’m told is the truth. My religion allows me to question everything while also having the safety net of a God in whom I choose to believe.

Bearing in mind my desire to hold everyone accountable to what they say, being religious makes me a paradox of myself. I question things, but then also go to sleep at night saying it’s OK to not know everything because something, or someone, up there does. That doesn’t make me fatalistic, and that doesn’t make me want to go to temple everyday. It makes me a normal 20-year-old girl who’s still figuring a lot out.

We may not be 50 yet, but turning 20 in a city we didn’t grow up in, in a dorm that’s just a temporary home, is scary. But if we can identify our paradoxes, and realize that seemingly opposite parts of ourselves can coexist, we can make it through our not-quite-quarter-life crisis.

And maybe I’ll make my mom happy and go to Hillel at least once this semester.

This is one of The Hatchet’s personal essays – a new type of opinions content that explores students’ experiences and stories. Read a more detailed explanation from The Hatchet’s opinions editor here.

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