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Stories of Faith, Part 1
Alegria Barclay, director of social justice & equity

We are entering the time of year when multiple faiths celebrate and contemplate a range of holidays and holy days. In honor of the many people within our Nueva community who practice a faith, we invited upper school students and faculty to share their stories of faith as a way to elevate and recognize the many identities and beliefs that shape who we are. Participants were asked to respond to one of the three following prompts:

  • How does your faith shape who you are?
  • What does your faith provide you with?
  • What do you want people to better understand about your faith? 

We know there are many more stories within our community and we invite you to share you story through this form.

Emma M. '22

I lived in New York City until I was 12 years old, attending a school where half my grade was Jewish and went to Hebrew school on Sundays just like I did. It wasn’t until I moved to the Bay Area that I realized that being Jewish is not a common experience for most of America. Perhaps because there were fewer Jewish people around me, I did not talk very much about being Jewish outside of Jewish spaces like my synagogue or my home throughout middle school and into high school. As a white-functioning Jew, I was able to hide that part of my identity to a certain extent by choice, but as I grew older, I became aware of why I might need to hide my Jewishness and why being visibly Jewish can be dangerous. 

While helping me prepare for the eighth grade Spain trip, my mom instructed me to take off the Magen David necklace that I’d received as a bat mitzvah gift. I was confused—why couldn’t I wear the necklace in Spain? My mom explained that Spain is not as tolerant of Jews as the Bay Area, and that I might be targeted for wearing the Magen David.

I am certainly lucky to be able to partially hide my Jewishness when I need to—though considering myself “lucky” to be able to hide it says a lot about how negatively Jews are viewed in this world. However, my very ability to hide it often makes me feel like I can’t truly claim this part of my identity. In the last few years, though, I’ve realized two things: one, that I am no less valid a Jew than someone who looks “more Jewish” than me, and two, that because my Jewishness isn’t always immediately visible, it’s up to me to be loud and proud about it. Just as my younger self made a choice not to discuss my Jewishness, so too must I now decide to share it with the world.

I still wear that Magen David, but now it means more to me than just a pretty bat mitzvah gift. I feel a moral imperative to be proud of my Jewishness because I’m privileged enough to live in a tolerant community, unlike so many of my ancestors. The necklace is a daily reaffirmation of my connection to Judaism, and a reminder that I will never be ashamed of this part of me. 

Nasruddin Nazerali, upper school math teacher

Islam informs who I am at my core and fundamental level. I am bestowed with creation/existence and guidance from God, and I conform myself to my best ability to this guidance on the path of return. Islam was also a big part of my communal identity growing up in Ethiopia, and a source of community when I came to study in the U.S.  I am from a multifaith family and I have been interested in theological differences and bridge building from a young age.

My faith in Islam provides me with a straight path of emulating the beloved Prophet of God, peace be upon him. This path involves seeking knowledge, avoiding blameworthy character traits, and acquiring noble character traits, as well as devotions and rituals. It is a straightforward and accommodating path, but it can also be difficult to follow when the correct or better choice goes against the desires of the ego, for example to concede a debate, to forgive and not hold a grudge, to keep up with regular worship, or to lower the gaze.

I want people to understand Why Religion Matters (I recommend the book by Huston Smith). Smith outlines why religion as compared to more recent philosophical developments within modernism and postmodernism asks deeper questions and offers better answers. The diverse harmony of religions contributes to a unified mosaic that points to a common thread and a transcendent source, notwithstanding real differences. Smith offers a wonderful exposition of this in his book The World’s Religions. For my part, I wish people to understand their own religion/atheism well and seek to understand others from their solid vantage point.

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