A Bar Mitzvah and a Rekindling of Jewish Identity


Abraham Sorock lives in Beijing, where his firm Atlas China supports business leaders and entrepreneurs in their China staffing and growth. His community leadership experience includes roles with the American Chamber of Commerce in China and Moishe House in Beijing. Abe joined the Schusterman ROI Community in 2017.

Growing up as an American kid with one Jewish and one non-Jewish parent, I never thought much about having a Jewish identity. It was much more important to be mainstream American, and aside from lighting Hanukkah candles, heading up to my grandparents' for Passover, and occasional conversations about the situation in Israel, we weren't observant or involved in Jewish life. I didn't really feel very Jewish either—everyone around who was Jewish was more Jewish than me. 

That started to change when I went to China and quickly went from one of the least to one of the most Jewish people around, relatively. Through some lucky coincidences of timing and friendship, I ended up a founding resident of the resurgent Moishe House Beijing, where we hosted local and international visitors for discussions, speaker talks, dinners and salons that were informed by the Jewish values and traditions that were not as universal as it had seemed to me growing up.  

Coming to China made me realize that a lot of my values and ideals in life come from Jewish traditions, and I felt compelled to move toward a Jewish identity as a tie back home. Still, at times I felt like an outsider or a fraud when it seemed like everyone else could speak Hebrew, went to camp and somehow knew just what to do on holidays. 

Jerusalem sunset

Despite my own insecurities, I found the global Jewish community welcoming and supportive. I applied for Birthright from Beijing and was accepted onto a summer trip from New York. That trip gave me a historical perspective and connection that made me more motivated to help bridge the Jewish world and Asia at this critical time. I organized volunteer events in this arena for a few years, while I was a resident and then later as an alum of Moishe House.

Then, this past year, my old roommate from the house, Ben Barth, gave me his code to apply for to be part of the ROI Community. ROI is a network of over 1,000 young, talented Jews from around the world who are working to do good. 

I had the good fortune to meet members of the ROI team at the AJF conference in Atlanta this spring, but didn't count on getting in—I knew how competitive it was and had been turned down before. When I saw that I was accepted to this year's Summit (the week-long introductory gathering in Jerusalem), I sent Ben a screenshot immediately. I also knew that my Jewish journey and involvement was about to reach a new level. 

I didn't know yet how true that was. Ben wanted to meet for a drink one night in Beijing three weeks before the conference so he could tell me what to expect. He had me repeat after him a few lines in Hebrew. What were those lines? That was the brachot—what I would need to say before and after the Torah reading at a shul service.

You see, he'd arranged for me to do my Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem, which we'd talked about for years but I never thought would really be possible. The tricky part would be for me to learn a little Hebrew to recite during the service. We quickly set up voice notes and flash cards. 

Before I knew it I was in Jerusalem. ROI was incredible and showcased the diversity of ways you can be Jewish out in the world and be doing great work. The people I met there, their stories and their passions will be part of my life for years to come and I felt honored to have a place among that group. After the Summit, Ben and I, plus a few other friends from Beijing and ROI started a three-day Bar Mitzvah celebration that involved everyone from taxi drivers to bakery owners and Israelis passing by on the street. I found myself welcomed and accepted in a way that I couldn't have imagined going in, much less years earlier. 

My Jewish identity has now become a solid part of my life. At the pre-Bar Mitzvah dinner at Jerusalem Village, one of the guests told me that this has just been the beginning of a journey. I feel that way and deeply grateful to my friends and to everyone in the community who's helped to set the path.   

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.