By Marsha Labunsky
Starting a new school is difficult, starting a new school as a 10th grader is even more difficult, but coming to a new school and finding out that youâre the only observant orthodox Jew on campus is not something that most people can relate to.
When Emanuel Yekutiel â07 came to Harvard-Westlake as a new 10th grader it was a difficult adjustment.
“No one was like me, and I couldnât find people that I could identify with,” he said. “I was the only one that I knew of who kept kosher all the way, [kept] Shabbat all the way, who wore a kippah and who prayed every morning.”
This year, however, David Derin â07 and Daniel Meer â08 have also begun wearing their kippahs to school every day, joining Yekutiel. Both Derin and Meer traveled to Israel with United Synagogue Youth the summer before their junior years and both had very religious experiences that strengthened their connections to God.
“I came back and I thought about wearing my kippah starting junior year, but I didnât feel I was ready to make the full commitment that I felt came with wearing a kippah,” Derin said.
After having worked at a Jewish summer camp this past summer, Derin decided that he “was ready now” to wear a kippah and to “keep Shabbat to a fuller extent.”
Derin, who goes to services every Friday and Saturday, even quit soccer this year because he would not have been able to attend games held on Fridays and Saturdays.
“I didnât feel that it was fair to the team, for me to be a member of the team but not always be there for them and with them,” Derin said.
Before his trip to Israel, Meer felt that he “hadnât had the chance to really connect with Judaism.”
“I think that the trip gave me a sense of Jewish pride,” Meer said. “Iâm willing to wear a kippah and show that Iâm Jewish and be proud of it too.”
Neither Derin nor Meer were directly influenced by Yekutiel in their decision to wear a kippah.
“I think itâs nice to feel that youâre not the only one who feels the same bond with Judaism and Israel,” Meer said.
Derin and Meer were both members of Yekutielâs Jewish Prayer Club last year.
“Iâd like to think that I inspired them in some way,” Yekutiel said. “I know that they went to Israel, and that was a major source of spiritual inspiration, but I definitely think that there must have been some correlation if they were two of the members of my Jewish Prayer Club.”
During club meetings, Derin and Meer would ask Yekutiel questions about placing Judaism in a modern context, Yekutiel said.
“The kippah is on the highest point on your body,” he said. “Itâs supposed to represent your subservience to God and how God is above you. Itâs kind of a humility thing.”
For Yekutiel, spirituality is his own personal choice.
“I feel like I identify very much with the philosophy and ethics behind Judaism, but itâs just a name,” he said. “Observance has been forced on me, and Iâve been accepting of that because you have to be accepting of what youâre given, but spirituality is something Iâve chosen on my own.”