Learn more about this series.
Abby Stern is a GRHS Class of 2020 grad who attends Tufts University. She is happy to be currently working at summer camp alongside her best friends.
I love being Jewish. I love being Jewish so much, that in second grade, when asked to draw a picture of myself for Back-to-School Night so that my parents could guess it was me, I drew myself in a dress with a huge Jewish star on it with the word JEW in all caps plastered on my chest. True story.
When it comes to get-togethers with my big Jewish family, events always feel like holidays, even if it’s not one. I leave stuffed with food and carrying a present, whether it’s an old sweater from my cousin or a silver dollar from my grandpa. I always leave feeling so full. I leave my big, loud, incredible Jewish family just so full of love. Judaism is more than just my religion. It's family, community, love and belonging.
I find this belonging not only with my family, but at my Jewish sleepaway camp. No matter the situation, whether having mud fights or dancing on tables or simply hanging out with my friends, I find the most joy in being surrounded by the community I love. There is nothing and no one that makes me feel more at home than my camp friends.
In September of my high school junior year, we had a sleepover in Manhattan, with about 15 of us staying in our friend’s apartment. We wanted to grab dinner, so we laughed our way out, arm in arm, and waited outside her tiny elevator. When the elevator opened, we all tried to pile in. We looked so funny trying to shove ourselves inside that I took a Snapchat video and posted it with the caption “How many Jews can you fit in an elevator?”
Several hours later, a boy from my grade at school, who was not my friend and who I had not spoken to in years, responded to my post on Snapchat. He wrote, “Throw a quarter in the elevator, then you can fit a lot.”
It took me a moment to wrap my mind around the words. I knew it was offensive, but it took me a second to understand why. And then I knew why. Jews are cheap. If you throw a quarter in the elevator, you can fit a lot of Jews, because we will all run after it. I got it now.
I felt anxiety twist from the center of my heart, and I couldn’t really talk to tell my friends what had happened. One second, I was big and full and swollen with the love and the rush of being with my friends, and with one digital comment…gone.
I felt ashamed. I had put myself in this situation. I had posted “How many Jews can you fit in an elevator” on my Snapchat story. I was asking for it. I should have been more careful. I thought my question was one of those jokes like “How many doctors does it take to screw in a lightbulb?” I was embarrassed and ashamed, and I blamed myself, as though I had fallen into some sort of trap, and I should have known to be more careful. When I told the story to members of my family, I felt the need to defend myself for posting something that could so easily be a set-up for a Jewish joke. That shame was almost worse than getting the message in the first place.
I had never lacked pride in being Jewish. I was the girl who drew a giant Jewish star on my self portrait for Back-to-School Night. I was the girl who would tell everyone about my giant Jewish family and all the holidays we spent together. I was not the girl who chastised herself for posting about Jewish friends on her Snapchat story. Except, all of a sudden, I was that girl, and I absolutely hated it.
Seven months after receiving the Snapchat comment, I still found myself struggling and realized I needed to flip my narrative. I wrote down my story, taking my pride back with each word I typed, and I performed it at the 2019 Glen Rock High School Moth Story Slam.
Standing in front of parents, teachers, and fellow students, I relieved myself of the burden of fault, and placed the blame back on the person who rightfully deserved it. I took the shame I had turned inward, and cast it onto the boy who had compromised my pride in the first place.
In doing so, I asserted that his words were not my problem, and it wasn’t my job to worry whether or not they were justified.
Words like that are never justified, regardless of the “set up.”
It’s been almost four years since my elevator post on Snapchat, and I still remember the 12 words texted to me when I was 16. I still remember the way my heart contracted within my chest when I read them. And I still remember how proud I felt to tell this story in front of so many people, winning back the pride that had been taken from me. ✡️