Twenty years of questions are answered

Nina Levin on her experience at Berkeley Hillel

Nina Levin

I am what my parents call a "millennium child." With a Russian Jewish father and Indian mother, I was raised in an off-beat multicultural household. My father emigrated from the Soviet Union after the decline of communism – a time when anti-religious sentiment was still prevalent. Because of this, my dad never fully understood what it meant to be Jewish. He knew he was Jewish in the same way that he knew he liked turkey sandwiches, so growing up, I adopted his way of thinking and my Jewish background didn’t make its way on to my radar.

As I got older I started to have questions. I wondered why I was still considered Jewish even though my family didn’t practice and my mother wasn’t Jewish at all. I wondered what it meant to be “half Jewish” and if a person could identify with a culture that neither of his or her parents were part of. Did being half Jewish mean I wasn’t Jewish at all? In high school, I struggled with trying to understand where I stood in regards to Judaism. Even though I lacked knowledge about religious practices and Jewish history, I still felt connected to Judaism and its culture. I searched for a way to understand where I fit as a person that is only ethnically half Jewish. At times, I felt like there was something missing in my life and as if there were things that I couldn’t put in words, such as inexplicably trusting people as soon as I learned they were Jewish. I wanted to know more, but didn’t know how to get there.

When I arrived in Berkeley for the first time three years ago, I was completely lost. While I made friends in the dorms and my classes seemed fulfilling enough, I couldn’t shake off the feeling something was missing from my college experience. I walked around campus suffering from a sense of disconnect – as if Berkeley didn’t quite feel like home. Believe it or not, I continued to feel this way for two years, until I finally walked into Berkeley Hillel for the first time and my life took a remarkable turn.

This year I worked at Berkeley Hillel as an intern, and in that time I’ve had twenty years worth of questions answered. While Berkeley Hillel does strive to fulfill its mission to create a Jewish home for students in Berkeley, it also allowed me to explore my individuality as a Jewish woman in college. I have learned that being a “halfie” should never stop me from identifying with Judaism and that no matter where my parents came from, I can still feel that connection with Jewish culture.

For the first time in my life, I have a Jewish identity and I know that there are other people who have grappled with the same doubts. There is no other place on earth that I feel more comfortable than within the confines of this incredible place. Even though some my say that I’m just half, I know that Berkeley Hillel makes me double.

The Federation supports Hillel’s mission to meet the needs of students. The Hillels on university campuses are a training ground for future leaders and play a critical role in providing a Jewish context and perspective for Jewish and non-Jewish students alike.

Categories: Volunteering


June 16, 2009


The Federation