By Lindsay Hand
In 1996, I received my Hebrew name on the bimah of Bet Torah Synagogue in Mt. Kisco; 13 years later, I became a Bat Mitzvah in that very same synagogue.
Throughout those intervening years, I learned the importance of learning, community, friends and religion. This began at Bet Torah Nursery School, though of course at the time I didn’t know it; I was too young to understand. Preschool might seem to be about ABCs and 1-2-3s, but it also provided the foundation for my connection to my religion. Attending my synagogue’s preschool and Hebrew School helped me feel a part of everything at a young age; the synagogue’s pride in its young members created an atmosphere of inclusion for everyone.
Though long ago, preschool is a memory that lives on for me today in the form of some of my closest friends. I remember random snippets of my days at Bet Torah Nursery School: riding tricycles, playing dress-up, singing “Build Me Up Buttercup” into magic markers, and lighting candles (and having grape juice and challah!) every Friday. Those early years together created an extremely strong bond that has continued; we’ve always been there for each other, remembering those favorite moments at Bet Torah, the place where our friendship began.
When I “graduated” to Hebrew school, excited to continue with my preschool friends, what was fun at first became, for me and probably every other child who attends religious school of any kind, just more time in a classroom. I have a distinct memory of dreading the lessons about Israel – every detail about its history, geography, and the like. I thought it was boring; as much as I looked forward to someday traveling to Israel, I figured I’d learn about it then. It just seemed far away, and I was too young to appreciate the depth of knowledge I was being offered. Now having been fortunate to have visited the country, however, I regret not paying more attention to those Hebrew school lessons. In Israel, I felt a connection to my religion wherever we went. As interesting as it was to learn new things there, the trip would have been further enriched had I recalled more of those “boring” details.
During my years of Hebrew school, I thought, like most of my Jewish friends, that I would be “done” after my Bat Mitzvah. But when that time came, I made a decision: I did not want to let go of Bet Torah or my religion outside of the high holidays and Passover seders. I continue to attend services occasionally with my family, and have become a Torah reader, including every Yom Kippur and my sister’s upcoming Bat Mitzvah.
This past year I discovered a strong passion for language, studying Spanish and adding Chinese in school. Neither, however, beats my desire to become fluent in Hebrew, a fascinating, beautiful and expressive language. I didn’t know it then, but those “conversational Hebrew” lessons in Hebrew school were a lot more important to me than I realized.
Between my roots at Bet Torah and my recent trip to Israel, I feel a deep connection with my religion and culture unlike anything I could imagine. It wasn’t necessarily due to specific beliefs or prayers; rather, it’s the complicated history, importance of learning, and passion for community that drew me in.
I didn’t realize it then, but my years at Bet Torah have helped me grow as a person and make me who I am today.
Inside Chappaqua Guest Editor Lindsay Hand, a past contributor to the magazine, is now a sophomore at Horace Greeley High School.