Miller reflects on Jewish traditions, lifestyle


Nyah Phengsitthy

Junior Grace Miller celebrates Jewish traditions during the holiday season.

Skimming page by page of the Torah, she absorbed the native language of a dying culture. In her spare time, junior Grace Miller can be found teaching herself the basic principles of the Hebrew language. Judaism has been apart of Miller’s life since birth and has managed to stick by her side since.

By the time kindergarten rolled around, she had already begun learning various types of prayers, as well as the Hebrew alphabet. This was intended to prepare Miller for the the most important event of a Jewish girls life, the Bat Mitzvah. This leads to the simple path towards Jewish adulthood which consisted of standing in front of an entire congregation while leading a service in Hebrew.

“[My parents] built towards this big event [known] as my Bat Mitzvah and it was performing in front of everyone. All of my friends and family were invited and members of the congregation. You are upfront leading a service, it’s a very communal [tradition] and I found out it was a lot less stressful than I made it out to be,” Miller said.

Among other traditions, Hanukkah is one of many holiday staples within the Jewish community. While many of her peers are rejoicing in the Christmas spirit, Miller gets with family and they enjoy a feast together. Afterwards, they pull out the candles and light one of them as a way of bringing honor towards a personal belief such as world peace.

“We light [a candle] for each eight days of the nights, we light for something differently. It’s my favorite thing because I feel like Hanukkah isn’t just for me, but it’s for everyone. It’s not just a holiday about giving presents or eating food or seeing my family. It’s about rejoicing in what we have and we want to give to others.”

Miller prioritizes her relationship with Judaism by attending Friday services and teaching at a Sunday school. As president of her synagogue youth group, she has grown to have a strong and active connection with other Jewish youth. The main purpose of the group is to serve throughout Harrisonburg by performing community service

The group has packed bags for the homeless and volunteered at different shelters. They also participate in an annual event known as “Ski Weekend,” where other youth groups from across Virginia and East Coast are invited to celebrate. Youth groups are offered to stay in their synagogue, while they bond, ski and explore Harrisonburg together.

Miller’s past experiences involving Judaism has led her to come upon many misconceptions about her lifestyle. She has argued that historical textbooks portrays Jews as a set of people who are frightened and intimidated by other groups of people.

“It shows the Jews as a [group] of people who are scared and intimidated by many other people because they’ve been so hunted throughout time. That misconception is widely spread and should be lessened because there is a number of us that [don’t] feel that [way],” Miller stated.

Her ancestor’s struggles provide a perspective on how important life is and that it is important for society to open their minds to everything without excluding a person, religion or culture.

The lack of knowledge on Judaism from others and herself has influenced Miller’s future plans. One of her plans is to travel to Israel as a journey of self-discovery on her religious beliefs. She strives to continue letting Judaism be the center of her focus at college by studying Hebrew and Judaic studies. Because not many people have viewed a large portion of Judaism, she would love to open up that to other people.

“It’s very mind-blowing to think about my ancestors and what they’ve gone through and it really puts into perspective how important life is and how critical it is to open up our minds to everything and not just one culture or people or religion, but to everything and everyone,” Miller said. “Seeing everyone get together and come together in hard times or happy times is just really beautiful. We are all connected through Israel, this homeland. [It] is magical to see how we can all connect through a single thing that we all are no matter what we look like or who we are.”

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