A few weeks ago, I attended my college orientation. In addition to the charged buzz of excitement coated in a healthy dosage of awkwardness, I encountered an innumerable amount of introductions. I made the acquaintance of more people than I can remember, but what I can remember is the preliminary bio that I relayed to nearly all of those people: “Hi. My name is Sophie, and I’m from outside of Boston.” If the conversation surpassed the cordial, “What do you want to major in?” then it usually came up that I was, indeed, pretty Jewish. While I probably could have tried to circumvent divulging my main identity, I knew that one way or another it would inevitably arise.
My Jewishness is such a major part of my identity that it often overshadows other aspects of who I am, because I am first and foremost a Jew. However, I usually don’t notice this dominance because I’m not accustomed to having to explicitly express that I’m Jewish. My Jewishness has always been a big elephant in the room, part of a herd of other big elephants, never standing out because everyone in the proverbial room is usually just as Jewish as I am. While I have been in situations in the past where I’ve had to introduce my elephant, singling myself out as the token Jew, I thought that college would be different. I figured that my Jew-ish name and my archetypal Jewish girl exterior was enough to convey to others that I’m Jewish. But as it turns out, being named Sophie Jacobs and having dark curly hair with an olive complexion is not, in fact, enough to be deemed Jewish by strangers during a five-minute introduction. On the contrary, the only way for strangers to know that I’m Jewish is if I tell them.
Entering college, nearly everyone is a stranger. I don’t know who’s a part of the herd, and the scattered herd doesn’t know that I, too, brought my elephant with me to orientation. It was an odd experience for me to have to overtly share my main identity, because, within my suburban Jewish bubble, it’s always just been a given that I’m Jewish. Because I’ve never had to really establish or explain my Jewishness, my Jewish identity has always just been this foundational safety net that I had to fall back on. I knew I was Jewish; the people around me knew I was Jewish. Therefore, the other facets of my personality could more easily shine through, like my interests in writing, fashion, Israel, pomegranate juice, the environment, etc. But because nobody at orientation knew I was Jewish, I had to first spell out the basis of my identity before I could get into the specifics of who I am.
While how many siblings I have and why I applied to colleges almost exclusively in the South are enormously fascinating discussion details, they are not as important to me as the major detail that I’m Jewish. Without the knowledge of my Jewishness, one cannot fully understand who I am as a complete person. All of my other identities stem from the foundation of my Jewishness, whether intentionally or not. I would not be the same person I am today without my Jewishness. Because of that, I am confident that over the next few months as I embark on my collegiate journey, my initial bio to new people will become something along the lines of, “Hi. I’m Sophie from outside of Boston. I’ll probably major in English. I’m Jewish.” If orientation was any indication, I’m more than certain that I will proudly be bringing my Jewish elephant to college.