Am I Jewish Enough?

Growing up in an interfaith family with a Catholic father and a Jewish mother, as a child I primarily identified as Catholic. Fast forward to 2015, and I started working at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center (PJCC) in their Youth & Family Department. To say the proceeding years were a crash course into Judaism would be an understatement! I learned about holiday traditions, could recite Shabbat blessings by memory, and became a master challah baker. Before I knew it, I became a Jewish resource at the PJCC, as well as amongst my family and friends. And yet, I never felt like I should be that person. I lacked confidence in my Jewish identity. How could I be this resource, when others had deeper connections, especially those who had grown up with Judaism?

In the fall of 2019, I was accepted into the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund’s Fed Fellows program. I was part of a 5-person mini cohort that would be incorporated into the already existing Fed Fellows cohort about to embark on their second year. A core part of the Fellowship is serving on a Board of Directors of a local Jewish nonprofit. While I was immensely excited about the opportunity, I still found myself feeling like an imposter with regards to my Jewish identity. I felt anxious about starting the program – what if someone realized I’m not as Jewish as I seemed? Not to mention that most of the cohort had already had an entire year to meet and form connections. Despite all my anxiety, I pushed forward because I knew the experience would propel me towards my professional goal of starting a nonprofit one day. By serving on a Board of Directors, I would gain a unique perspective for when I one day work with my own Board as an Executive Director.

As I drove from San Mateo to the Federation’s San Francisco office for my first meeting, I was a mess. Dona Standel, the Federation’s Senior Program Manager of Leadership Development welcomed me, and I grabbed dinner. Then I began the awkward game of where to sit. However, this awkwardness lasted only a minute, as I was immediately engulfed by questions and brought into conversations with other Fellows.

During this meeting, we met with Arthur Slepian (current Vice President of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav and Board Chair of the Federation) and learned about the Federation’s new strategic direction and how it came to be. I found it extremely interesting and relevant. Dona concluded the meeting with a powerful closing where each Fed Fellow chose a photo that represented their own personal journey. Despite two groups of individuals meeting and merging into a single cohort that night, I never felt that I was a ‘newbie’ or ‘outsider.’ Most importantly, for the first time, I didn’t worry if I was Jewish enough.

I brought that feeling of empowerment into my position sitting on the Board of Jewish LearningWorks. While the ensuing COVID-19 pandemic transformed everything into virtual meetings, I nonetheless felt like I played an integral part, both on the Jewish LearningWorks Board and within the Fed Fellows cohort. As I reflect back to the photo I selected at my first Fed Fellows meeting, an image of skyscrapers from the perspective of someone looking up, I feel hopeful, a feeling I felt when I originally selected the photo. While I know I have a lot of learning to do, I feel as if I am in a new stage of my Jewish identity in which I finally feel confident and ready to share my knowledge and experiences.

Nicole Cruz is a Southern California native currently residing in the Bay Area. She works at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center as their Salesforce Administrator/Developer. Nicole received her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Italian from the University of Southern California, and her Masters in Education from Vanderbilt University. She’s participated in several Jewish professional development opportunities including Hazon's Jewish Outdoor Food Farm Environmental Education (JOFEE) Fellowship in 2016 and the Federation’s Fed Fellows program in 2020. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, outdoor activities, and participating in Jewish community events in the Bay Area.

Learn more about the Fed Fellows program and meet our newest cohort. For additional information, contact Dona Standel, Senior Program Manager, Leadership Development.

Categories: Leadership


August 11, 2020


Nicole Cruz