How Do Our Differing Identities Shape Us?

Third-year rabbinical and first-year Zschool MAJNM student Tori Greene reflects on her recent trip with Rootas Colombia.
October 3, 2023

Tori Greene

Group of people standing in a stairwell smiling at the camera

Sometimes, understanding who you are takes leaving where you’re from. Growing up in South Florida, where so many people have familial lineage to Latin America, there’s almost a default cultural way of being. Plus, spending so much time with my grandmother from the Dominican Republic, the San Cocho and merengue basically run through my veins. However, growing up in a world where we didn’t have terms like “intersectional identity,” I felt forced to pick one part of myself. Since I didn’t speak Spanish, it felt easier to stick with just being Jewish.

Fast forward to Passover 2023, three classmates and I went to Guatemala to learn about the Jewish communities there and led a Shabbaton weekend for Adat Israel (the Reform Jewish community, which my classmate Rebeca is from). This was my first time experiencing Latin America from a Jewish perspective. It was as if someone grabbed a 5’7’’ mirror and held it right up to me, I saw myself in a fullness I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I realized how much my latina-ness is actually infused into who I am, and I was hungry for more.

After returning to Los Angeles, I saw an Instagram post from Jewtina y Co promoting Rootas Colombia, a chance to travel with Latin Jews living in Los Angeles to explore the intersection of our identities. Plus, it was taking place during the few days between my summer semester at the Zelikow School and the start of my third year of rabbinical school. I felt the Divine calling to me, telling me to invest in myself and explore.

Bread from a jewish bakery

One of the days of the trip, we explored some of the historical and modern Jewish developments in Bogota. We went to an art warehouse where we participated in a workshop to create a local Colombian dish. We went from peeling and preparing vegetables to dancing to salsa, merengue, and reggaeton to studying Torah. Perhaps three somewhat disconnected activities transitioned one into the other so naturally causing me to feel a deep and profound nourishment in my body, heart, and soul.

I’m grateful this experience helped me realize that I’m not alone in my intersectionalities. So many of us go through life trying to figure out how our unique mixtures of ethnicities and identities blend into shaping who we are while feeling part of Klal Israel. Though I’m still processing the experience to understand how I might incorporate it into my rabbinical and overall nonprofit work moving forward, for now, the most important thing I can do is proudly claim and own my Latinness, so hopefully when someone else like me is growing up, they won’t think they have to choose between the full parts of themselves.