The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

Religion off campus

April 21, 2020

Religious communities exist outside of school, through gatherings at places of worship, family traditions and religious organizations.

Junior Cornelia Penn, who is Buddhistm attends a Buddhist temple each month to pray with her family and other Cambodian Buddhists. Sophomore Emma Gourand, who identifies as Catholic, attends church every Sunday with her family. Her mother helped contribute to the development of a local French Catholic community by bringing French priests to help people pray.  

Junior Ben Rubinstein is part of Jewish teen movement BBYO’s local chapter, which he describes as his “outlet” to Jewish culture and a driving force in his pride of his Jewish heritage.

“It’s this culture of being a minority and of being oppressed and of trying to find our own cultural identity through that,” Ben said. “Being a part of BBYO means I can connect and keep being Jewish. We see bad things happening to us as a Jewish community when people begin to forget their Judaism.”

At home, Ben speaks Hebrew with his family, participates in religious rituals involving the Torah and attends synagogue approximately once a month. However, he does not believe in God or connect with the spiritual aspects of Judaism.

“I understand Hebrew, and to be able to look at a language and understand what it’s saying and say words that I might not believe in [in synagogue] makes it less appealing to go,” Ben said.

For Ben, joining BBYO allowed him to redefine his way of practicing his religion.

“I’m not praying as much, but it doesn’t mean that I’ve disconnected from my Judaism,” Ben said. “I’ve taken control of the way I want to practice Judaism. Prayer has never been something that I’ve found necessary or helpful to connect to some divine power. I’ve always felt that has come mainly in my ability to do good in the world. Being part of BBYO has been integral to allowing me to stay with those values.”

Senior Rebecca Swernofsky identifies as more culturally than spiritually Jewish. As a result, she doesn’t attend synagogue every weekend although her mother and stepfather do. However, she values the community aspect of Judaism.

“I feel like I’m being left out,” Rebecca said. “I wish I was more of a part of the community, because community is huge. I’m missing out on that whole community aspect where you see the kids learning your values and the older adults there treat you as a grandchild because they’ve known you for years.”

Another reason Rebecca doesn’t attend synagogue is because of the time commitment.

“Community is nice, but it’s a lot of time every week to say prayers,” Rebecca said. “I don’t see myself [attending synagogue] several years down the line. Maybe when I’m really old.”

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