What Being Jewish in Alabama is Like

January 16, 2024
Aubrey Engel

Birmingham, Alabama, United States

Class of 2026

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Living in Alabama, being Jewish isn’t the most common. There are many different types of reactions when you tell others you are Jewish. There are the people who say, “Oh! Yeah… do you ever wish you could celebrate Christmas?” or even the people who say, “Oh I’m sorry.” These are two examples of fragments of sentences and questions I hear very frequently. Sometimes people will even go to the extreme with, “Omg I know someone Jewish her name is _____.” I try to explain that I don’t know every single Jewish person in the world, yet I keep getting proved wrong due to Jewish geography ;).

In my grade, there are not many Jewish kids at all. Let’s just say I don’t run out of fingers when I’m counting. My school doesn’t give off days on Jewish holidays, so it’s pretty evident who the Jewish kids are missing during Rosh Hashanah. My teachers start becoming cautious when they are scheduling tests. Well, some. Others don’t care. I’ll ask to move a test back due to some sort of Jewish event I have going on and some teachers will say, “Oh! Yes! Of course! Have fun!!!” And some will be like, “Sorry Aubrey, that's not a valid excuse to move a test back” simply because they just don’t understand. They don’t understand that this is my religion that we’re regarding. Just as Christianity is respected among our community, so should Judaism. But it's not, because there are so few people in my community that it affects.

I tell all my friends about the different things I do being Jewish. A lot of them are very intrigued. Almost like they’ve never met a Jewish person before. Which is ok because they probably haven’t. My teachers too. I remember on the first day of Hanukkah, my friend and I entered our first period classroom and my teacher had the Maccabeats on BLAST. We walk in and she starts cheering. It was the most taken back I’ve ever been. I saw it as a sweet gesture simply because she doesn’t understand really what Hanukkah is but she knew it was the first day of it so she wanted to respect us by “celebrating.” Things like this happen more than you’d think. People here aren’t familiar with Judaism. I’ve explained our values and ideals to people in my school quite a bit and it’s something I kind of enjoy. When people are genuinely wondering or curious, I have no problem answering their questions — no matter how out-of-pocket they are.

I used to hate living in Alabama; I would think I didn’t belong and that nobody here was like me. Although I thought that way in the past, I’ve accepted that and learned to love it. Being Jewish sets me apart from every other person in my school. I’m not ashamed to be Jewish, I never was. But now I embrace it so much more than I ever did before. Being Jewish in Alabama is something only a very few teenagers in BBYO can say. I’ve had so many more opportunities within my Jewish life here than I would anywhere else. Despite that it's not an ideal place for Jewish people, it’s taught me the lesson to love my Jewish identity and have patience. My love for Judaism is stronger because of the people here who got me to appreciate it more. And for that, being raised as a Jewish teenager in Alabama, I forever will be thankful for.

Aubrey Engel is a BBG from Magic City part of Delta Region who loves writing and shopping.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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