Prose, Grades 10-12: Second Place

Unshackled — Gabriel Daitzchman

While waiting in line for the roller coaster and anticipating the adrenalin rush, a kid behind me tapped me on the shoulder and bluntly asked, “Are you Jewish?”
I was taken aback. My chest constricted, my ears grew hot, and my hands got cold. I hesitantly responded, “Um… yeah…?” my inflexion turning up at the end.
The kid, who sported a buzz cut and was rather pudgy, took my discomfort as scrutiny and retorted, “God, Jewish people are so mean.” He promptly turned around and ignored me until it was my turn to ride.
At that point I hadn’t realized that the back of my shirt had a Star of David on it, which would explain this plump boy’s curiosity. Regardless, I was flustered by this meaningless exchange of words. A close call, I thought.
My dad was born in Curitiba, in southern Brazil. He told stories about growing up in a place where anti-Semitism was a reality; bikes were stolen, and eyes were blackened. “Dirty Jew,” they would say.
These stories scared me, not because I felt unsafe, but because someone, somewhere, hated me since I wore a funny little black hat, spoke a harsh phlegmy language, and didn’t celebrate Easter.
Waiting for the roller coaster, it was no chubby kid probing my religion. It was a history of persecution wearing the mask of an innocent child.
Months later, at the age of 13, my cousin Adam had his Bar Mitzva. After so courageously becoming a man, he started wearing a Star of David on a loose silver chain around his neck. Wouldn’t people ask him about this? What if people make fun of him for it? The world is a harsh place.
As these thoughts ticked by in my mind, I ruminated on my own necklace that my grandmother had given me for my Bar Mitzva.
It was about a year ago when I came home one day and said to my mom, “Hey Ma, where is that necklace that Bubee gave me? Ya know, the gold one?”
My Bubee had bought me a necklace much like Adam’s when I was born for fear that she would not live to see my Bar Mitzva. On a delicate gold rope chain hung a small cylinder of gold with a Star of David soldered onto its face. A mezuza, my mom called it.
Years earlier, when I first learned of the necklace, Mom explained that Jewish people have mezuzason their doorposts to bless their home. Similarly, this necklace would bless me wherever I went.
That day, a year ago, when I came home, I put it on. I still don’t know what possessed me to do so, but it felt right.
The next day at school, the piece of precious metal felt foreign encircling my neck. But as time marched forward, I grew accustomed to this familial artifact. Now it is a lustrous extension of my neck. It is a beacon that outshines prejudice in the city of Curitiba and eclipses ignorance waiting in line for a roller coaster. It is my family’s blessing and my personal prayer.
Sometimes people ask, “What’s that necklace for?”
I flash them a warm smile. “It’s because I’m Jewish.”