Maiya Masjedi (she/her)
Title: Class of 2024
“I have struggled to find my Jewish identity, but my pathway has been like a rollercoaster-type, and I have changed a lot. I started at a modern Orthodox school in LA, which was a lot to handle, and then transitioned to a super-secular school in the middle of suburbia. This transition was difficult for me since not only was I Jewish, but I was also of a different ethnicity. Like, I wasn’t white-passing, making it much harder to find my place.
Often, people don’t recognize me as Jewish because I am Sephardic and don’t fit the typical stereotype of a white, Eastern European Jew. Many people unfamiliar with Sephardic culture are surprised to learn that I am Jewish, as I look more Middle Eastern to them. It’s not uncommon for people to express surprise that an Iranian can be Jewish: I’ve told people that my mom is half Syrian, half Turkish, and they’ll be like, ‘I didn’t even know that it was a thing.’ Despite these interactions, I am comfortable with my appearance and identity thanks to my upbringing around other Sephardic Jews.
Sephardic and, especially, Persian Jews, very much know how to stick together, which is a great thing because it has helped me build a strong sense of community. When I moved back to the city after living in the suburbs, I found a large Persian Jewish community where I began reconnecting with Judaism and questioning how Judaism played a role in my life. I adopted the mentality of doing things out of tradition rather than religious beliefs. For example, I would fast on Yom Kippur not to repent for my sins but because my parents and ancestors did it, which ties me back to my ancestry.
I also feel more comfortable with my Jewish identity now. In the past, I was hesitant to embrace Judaism fully. However, since being at college, where Judaism isn’t constantly pushed on me, engaging feels like way more of a choice, which has allowed me to be more intentional.
At the same time, I feel stuck in a middle ground between different communities and identities: I feel like I’m not Jewish enough for some communities or Persian or Israeli enough for others. Despite grappling with this, I appreciate the beauty and grounding experience of Jewish practices, and I’ve adopted a spiritual lens of Judaism. I find it empowering that there is room for criticism and evolution within Judaism, and I embrace it to adapt it to my own lifestyle.”