"Tagen Alai": My Magen David Necklace and My Jewish Identity
On the morning of December 19, 2015, sunlight filtered into an overcrowded Tel Aviv apartment. The picturesque fantasy I’d imagined for the morning of the biggest moment in my twelve-year-old life, my bat mitzvah, seemed far away from the reality: my brothers stumbling half-asleep out of bed, the semi-barked commands of my safta resounding in the small space, and my alarming need to hurl everything that I had ever eaten.
It was amid this frenzy that my parents decided to present me with a gift. It was the same one that my older brother had received in 2014 and that my little brother would receive in another three years. After a moving speech (of which I now remember very little), my father placed a small, soft, turquoise pouch in my outstretched palms. I rummaged around inside, feeling the smooth touch of cool metal against my fingertips. I slid a simple silver chain out of the pouch and held it, dangling, in front of me. At the bottom of the necklace, a small Magen David was spinning around wildly. I clasped the metal around my neck, and there it has remained for my every waking moment since.
As a child, being Jewish wasn’t a question; I just was. Even in the few non-Jewish spaces I frequented as a spunky toddler, I never felt out of place. Unfortunately, that naïve bliss soon disappeared to reveal a much harsher reality.
My first and most memorable experience with antisemitism was in an airport returning to my home in Minnesota after visiting family in Ireland. As a second-grader, I was completely infatuated with the Hebrew language, and I seized every chance to translate any piece of information to my family. Apparently, one customs agent did not share my love of these guttural echoes and sounds.
“In America, we speak English. I don’t have to let you into the country, you know.” He said to me.
I assumed the man was joking, and I laughed. Fear quickly took over when I realized he wasn’t kidding. Though that experience was unique in the sheer boldness of the antisemitism, many smaller occurrences with the same bigoted foundation have colored my experiences as a Jewish person.
As the environments and peers surrounding me became increasingly secular over the years, I found myself hiding my Magen David necklace, an obvious and physical representation of my Jewish identity, behind layers of clothing. Depending on the situation and people involved, I convinced myself that this would simply make life easier; if I just hid part of myself for periods of time, it would be a way to avoid unnecessary conflict.
That instinct came at a time when I also believed that making myself physically smaller, and just generally taking up less space, was for the best. Unfortunately, I’d fallen victim to the vicious social constructs for women’s behavior, and whoever created that impossible model definitely wasn’t a fan of opinionated minority women.
During those times where I felt frightened and downtrodden, I was lucky to find a support system of family and a close-knit group of friends who, even when I pushed them away, made me laugh and smile again. In moments spent with these family members and friends, I saw women who I looked up to being totally and completely unafraid to showcase their full selves (whether or not the world was ready for them). Taking their lead, I slowly began to regain my confidence, which for years I had only seen between the pages of childhood photo albums. Those experiences, coupled with increased representation of Jewish women in mainstream media (like Gal Gadot in her iconic role as Wonder Woman), allowed me to begin the process of once again learning to be confident with myself and my identity.
Though Judaism never left my life for too long, I’d pushed it inside, outside, and around the periphery of my identity in order to appease others. By the time I entered my freshman year of high school, my Jewish identity was once again an integral aspect of my personality. For the past two years, I’ve worn my Magen David necklace boldly on my chest, unconcerned with who might see it.
Though I’m not generally the jewelry-wearing type, my Magen David necklace has transformed from a simple silver chain into an extension of my identity. I hope the necklace continues to carry out its named task in protecting and guiding me. I may not have all the confidence in the world yet, but my necklace will be right atop my heart as I continue the work to find it.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Gross, Noa. ""Tagen Alai": My Magen David Necklace and My Jewish Identity." 16 November 2020. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on June 3, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/tagen-alai-my-magen-david-necklace-and-my-jewish-identity>.