“Community means people and stories. The dynamics of diversity are an essential part. Chabad on Campus spotlights every week another member of the community with each their own story and vision.”
Noam Silva, born and raised in Amsterdam is currently studying in London, she is Dutch Brazilian and is now in her second year of International Developments. In this interview-style Spotlight, she discusses her family, Chabad in London and how she engages with Judaism.
Why did you decide to go abroad for university?
After living my entire life in Amsterdam I really wanted to go abroad and London was perfect for me because it’s nearby and very accessible from the Netherlands. I’m in my second year of university studying International Developments and although I’m graduating next year I feel like my study currently is not challenging me to the level I want it to, so I’m considering switching to Law School! Which is definitely a big change but I’m known for changing my plans every week, so I’ll keep you updated on that.
What does being Jewish mean to you, what’s your story?
This question requires a lot of nuance and I believe my personal story begins with my parents. The way my parents met was quite an interesting turn of events but very memorable all the same. My mum is Dutch and Jewish and she met my dad in Israel while he was travelling. He moved to Israel from Brazil after some deliberation because he thought it was an amazing country. He decided to serve in the army and he fell in love with the country and the people. We tend to joke in our family that my Dad is more Jewish than my mum, although he isn’t Jewish himself his strong belief in Israel has made him somewhat of a Zionist. My parents lived in Israel for a decade years after my mum did Aliyah but decided to move back to Amsterdam years later to raise me and my sister. Growing up my family was not traditionally religious but I grew up with the impression that we always loved Israel. My grandmother is the person I turn to if I have any questions about Judaism and I learnt the most through her. Although we never celebrated Shabbat or many major holidays I knew I was Jewish, and I was always proud of it. However, I feel like my connection to Judaism strengthened when I was introduced to the Jewish Community in London during my time studying abroad.
So did your experience with Judaism change a lot when you began university?
It was truthfully in London, after peak COVID, when I began to connect with my Judaism. The community here is so vibrant and they really contribute to the Jewish student community by hosting events for students throughout the year similar to Chabad on Campus in Amsterdam. I began going with my friends when things opened up in 2021 and it became a habit! Now I happily go to Shabbat dinner almost every single week. Nonetheless, I was quite hesitant to go to Chabad because I felt like I was not religious enough to participate, but my mindset changed rather fast after meeting friends and realising it was a safe space. I personally had a hard time associating my Jewishness with joy and happy memories. My grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, so part of being Jewish to me was tainted by sadness and mourning. This association was difficult for me to process and I feel more people could relate to this initial hesitancy I felt, which changed to determination after realising I had the opportunity a whole generation did not. Another thing that sparked my interest in engaging with Chabad was the Israel-Palestine conflict. As the conflict peaked in 2020 I remember I didn’t have a lot of Jewish friends and I found it very difficult to find people to talk to about it in a way that I felt comfortable. So all of those things in mind, I figured, why not sign up for the Chabad in London. I’m happy I did because its changed my perspective on how I view my personal connection with Judaism.
Did you have a memorable experience at a Jewish event you went to?
Yeah, definitely, I’ve had a really great time at Shabbat Dinners in London as well as joining the Seder in Amsterdam this year when visiting family. Pesach this year was the first time I’d gone to Chabad on Campus and I thought the experience was memorable because the company was great. Right before my first Shabbat Dinner in London, I was very nervous I was doing everything wrong. That included what I was wearing, the things I said and the questions that I had. But then I got there, and I met all of these people who were similar to me and I was struck by how we’re all in the same boat and that was such a great feeling to know you’re not alone. Plus, all the Chabad Rabbi’s that I’ve met, are all interested in your story and they always seem to remember you or know who you are. My most memorable experience however was when I began going to Shabbat Dinners in London and the Rabbi was talking about religiosity in times of strife. He discussed the Jewish community in Ukraine and how they had been hit and needed to evacuate. He said something that stuck to me which was; for the men that can’t put on their Tefillin and the women who cannot light the Shabbat candles we are here to do it for them. I remember that I thought it was a wonderful perspective on a terrible conflict as it showed me I didn’t need to be traditionally Jewish to understand the importance of keeping tradition and passing it on.
“It was such a great feeling to know that you are not alone”
If feel like many international students when they go abroad visit Chabad and go to Jewish events more often, what do you think?
My younger self would have never thought I’d be going to Friday Night dinners and now I do almost every week. The reason why it has gone so easily for me is that Chabad makes you feel as if they are willing to teach regardless of how “Jewish” you perceive yourself to be. I’ve struggled with this concept of Jewishness in my adult life and feeling the weight of others’ expectations on what I need to become. For anyone who struggles with the same thing, you are not alone and know that your community has your back, although it may sound cheesy I feel that these two years of university have shaped my concept of self.
Do you want to learn more about members of the Chabad on Campus community? Have a look at our other Spotlights!