By Bill Lazarus
When Satya Zamudio turned 11 she moved back to the Bay Area with her mom Brooke Lober. Her dad, Joaquin Zamudio Garcia, lived four blocks away.
In prior homes in Tucson and LA, they had not been particularly religious. But Brooke, an activist in Jewish Voice for Peace and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, had long heard of Kehilla and “wanted me to get my Jewish education here.”
“I was never really religious,” Satya says. “It was politically my mom’s thing.”
At Kehilla, Satya’s start was rocky. “When I first came, I didn’t actually like it,” she remembers. “I came a little late in the year and I didn’t know anything, basically. I felt like the rest of the class knew much more than me. I felt kind of intimidated.”
In fact, Satya did not want to return, but gave into her mom “who told me I should try it another week.” By the third week, Satya was hooked. “I loved the people in my class. They were funny. I was welcomed by them. It was great. I really felt a connection to Rabbi Dev.”
Now, three years have passed. Satya had her Bat Mitzvah in the spring with the help of “warm and loving” guidance by Natalie Boskin and her “magical spirit”.
In preparation, every Monday, Satya studied with her partner Nadia. They worked with their Hebrew teacher Elizheva, studied Jewish history and stories, and tackled their Torah portions. Satya was assigned a parsha from Leviticus that many find to be especially challenging — all you never wanted to know about purity and impurity.
“I thought, ‘What am I going to do with this?’” She found the part about putting women into quarantine when they are in their menstrual cycle to be particularly disturbing, so Satya decided to focus upon that for her drash.
“I disagreed and linked it to the AIDS crises. I talked about how it was believed that dying people should be quarantined as well. I argued this was wrong.”
She talked about stigma, and questioned why the topic of menstrual cycles, a natural thing, should be treated so gingerly. “I just threw the question out – Is it because people are scared of it?”
As might be expected of a 13-year-old girl speaking before a, large group of friends, family and a number of strangers about a taboo sexual topic, Satya says with perhaps a bit of understatement, “I was nervous.”
Joaquin, Satya’s dad, though brought up Catholic, never was particularly religious. But he dove into her Bat Mitzvah, learning prayers and blessings, helping with the kiddish and engaging with their havurah.
Before Kehilla, Satya was exposed to some different synagogues. She found them to be “so conservative.” At Kehilla, in contrast, “Everyone is super different. They have such different ideas, thoughts and perspectives. “Kehilla brings them all together.
After completing her Bat Mitzvah, Satya was not ready to take a long break from religion. She decided to become a teaching assistant for Kehilla’s fifth grade. “So I’m here every Thursday again. Some other people from my class are also TAs.”
She finds that supporting “the connections that kids have to each other” to be a “really great part” of her work at Kehilla. “We are people who kids can come to. We’re not lead teachers or classmates. We’re in the middle.”
Meanwhile, Satya says, “I found my religion here, my spirituality. I go to services now, and I never did that before. I love my class and I’ll know the kids in it for the rest of my life. It’s really made a big impact on me.”