Jillian Powers – Applied Sociologist
Hello! Good afternoon!
(Audience) Good afternoon.
Jillian Powers: Louder. Good afternoon!
(Audience) Good afternoon!
Jillian Powers: Great, you guys are awake, and that is wonderful, let’s begin, because I’m telling you a story today. I’m going to take you back, I’m going to take you back to 2004, when I was 23 years old, and I was about to begin my adult smart-person life.
I just moved to North Carolina, to start a PhD program in Sociology, and I was really excited about it. I’ve always had a fascination with identity, culture, and how we create community. Here I was, I was getting a chance to specialize in this for a living.
But I was also feeling really alone at the time, I had left my friends and family behind to start this new adventure, and I didn’t feel like I truly fit in yet. The South and academia were just very different places and spaces from what I was used to. That’s really how I wound up traveling on a Birthright Israel trip with my college friend Lindsay. I was looking for a way to connect to people and find a sense of community. Unfortunately, my anxieties over belonging traveled with me like unwanted baggage, and they shaped how I thought about even the smallest of my experiences.
For example, filling out the entry forms, before even landed, on the plane, became a serious moment of soul searching for me. While Lindsay had been filling out her entry forms in crisp, block letters, I had been staring at my own for what felt like hours. I got stumped, stumped by the last question on the second line, “Grandfather’s name.” I turned to Lindsay, “Lindsay,” that’s how I talk to Lindsay, “I can’t remember my Jewish grandfather’s name.” She didn’t respond, so I said it again, “Lindsay, I can’t remember my Jewish grandfather’s name.”
“Well, then put down your other grandfather.” Lindsay failed to understand the severity of the problem here. I was raised Jew-ish. I’m the child of intermarriage, and while my mother converted, I felt like I still grew up with almost as many “Our Fathers” as “Baruch ata adonais.” So not being able to remember my Jewish grandfather’s name, it made me feel really uncertain in this space.