My daughter, a birthday, Taylor Swift, and what we’re fighting for

Sara Goldrick-Rab
4 min readJan 18, 2023

Tomorrow marks my 46th trip around the sun.

Nothing about the last year has been easy, but I’ve learned and grown and for that I’m grateful. Today I’m happier than ever. Sure it still rains occasionally, but I expect it and come prepared. And the sun shines brighter because I know how much it means to stand outside, soaking up the energy.

Life was a willow and it bent right toward your wind

Last Saturday my daughter became bat mitzvah. We spent months together preparing for that moment. We practiced Torah. We chanted and found the pauses. And I watched in awe as she found her way to what Judaism really means now, in 2023.

What did she learn? Don’t listen to me — listen to her. 13-year-olds have so much to teach us. Find out why Taylor Swift is in the blog title!

And then, please act. Celebrate her power, celebrate her promise, and share her words. While you’re at it, please donate to our favorite anti-poverty organizations: Believe in Students, the Student Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia, the Azzim Dukes Initiative at Maleek Jackson’s Boxing Gym, and Invisible People.

According to the Torah, Annie is now a Jewish adult. I wish we could give her the vote immediately.

Gratefully, and happily, her mom-

Sara

Full text:

As the fearless Taylor Swift once said, “If they don’t like you for being yourself, be yourself even more.”

“If they don’t like you for being yourself, be yourself even more.”

Judgment is common in everyday life; sometimes it can even be helpful. However, judging people out of fear, ignorance, and superiority brings them down and results in conflicts.

My Torah portion is from the very beginning of Exodus. The Israelites– in other words the Jewish people– are living in Egypt. They are represented in the story by Joseph, who is Jacob and Rachel’s son. One day, a new king comes into power and very quickly begins to attack the Israelites, causing them to have to flee. This is the same famous portion we talk about at Passover every year. But what we don’t recognize often enough is that the king acted out of fear because he did not know Joseph, and in turn he did not know the Israelites. He made a big mistake.

The Torah is a teacher and a guide. Understanding its lessons requires that we read it carefully. The key sentence in my portion reads “A new king arose who did not know Joseph.” The Hebrew title for my Torah portion is Sh’mot, which means names. That’s important.

When we meet someone new we try to make sense of them and we judge them. Sometimes, especially if we are afraid of our differences from another person, we judge them negatively. What happens when we don’t know someone– when we don’t really even know their name?

Names stand in place of who we are. When we don’t know a name, we don’t know the person. We fear. It takes time and effort to overcome this but it’s one of the most important things to learn– particularly if we want to get along with other people.

So when the Torah says “A new king arose who did not know Joseph” it means the new king didn’t even really know Joseph’s name, or what he stood for, and in turn did not know his people– the Jewish people. That lack of knowledge, and fear, led to the exodus– as Jews were enslaved and later fled from Egypt.

Many communities, religions, races, and groups of people suffer from misjudgment and fear. Think about LGBTQ+ communities, African-American families, immigrants, Jews, and the many others who are said to not be “normal.” Are they– are we- really not? Or are we just judged that way out of fear — because people don’t take the time to know us?

As I prepared for my bat mitzvah, I spent time working to feed and support people who are different from me– people who are homeless. They are very different from me– I have two homes, with each of my parents– while they don’t even have one.

Not having a home doesn’t mean people are bad– it means their situations are bad. People we call “The Homeless,” have names just like you and I do. The difference is that because they don’t have homes they never get to hear their names. We pass them on the street and don’t care one bit to get to know them or call them by their names. It’s as if they are invisible.

I wonder what would happen if we took a couple minutes out of our day to say hello and ask their names? As if they were people worth knowing? It’s not as hard as it may seem to make people feel recognized and appreciated.

My Torah portion, and my preparation for this bat mitzvah, have taught me not to look at someone differently because we don’t have similar lives. Everyone is human, we all have blood running through our veins and a brain in our head. Whether someone may look different, act different, or believe in different ideas, they all deserve respect and an open mind. Everyone is simply their self. So, like Taylor said, be yourself.

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Sara Goldrick-Rab

Author of Paying the Price, founder of the #RealCollege movement, the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, and Believe in Students