Humans of Beth Am Blog

Lia Mandelbaum

Lia grew up in Tampa, Florida, a predominantly southern Baptist community. While it was a white, affluent environment it wasn't very accepting of others and she didn't always want her Judaism broadcasted. She felt like she was "floating" with many identities trying to find her truth. She attended a large public school where she was one of two or three Jews. Her mom had attended this school and her grandfather was the architect of the school and he was also the architect of their Reform synagogue. She resentented how her last name, Mandelbaum, was so different from all the other last names like Smith, Williams, Foster, White etc., and made her stand out as a Jew. After all, the Confederate flag was a major fashion statement, and she saw people writing out swastikas for fun and she was bombarded with Holocaust jokes throughout high school. Nobody ever stood up for her, including herself. Everytime Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah came around and the fact that the schools did not support the holidays, she did not want to draw more attention to herself and like many Jews in the south she wanted to assimilate. The rise in anti-Semitism in America doesn't feel unfamilar to Lia as she learned from a very young age what is was like to be the "other."

At four years old she knew she was queer and experienced bullying all the way from elementary through to high school and she had no role models. Her identity was being shaped by others and even the boy she had a crush on called her a lesbian and she had no idea or support on how to navigate this identity journey. She had a lot of shame and learning self-love and coming to peace with her identity and Judaism was a big turning point for her. When she went to UNC Asheville to study, she dealt with more bullying there and this plummeted her into another shame spiral which lead to a deep depression for about 8 months. It was a buildup of all the years of trauma and her aunt recommended she turn to Beit T'shuvah for support. It took so much courage to show up there and she was able to be part of a community where everyone is in the same boat of humanity. There is no judgment of each other and therefore a real openness. For Lia, the connection to the Jewish piece was learning a new language of how to deal with being human. She had often connected with the character Leah, from the Bible, which is her Hebrew name and they talked about how she was undervalued, unseen and unheard and yet, because of Leah there is the strong connection to Israel as she gave birth to half of the 12 tribes, including Judah. Basically, Lia started to see more depths in the Biblical characters and stories and she began to have such deep pride over being human and marvel at this incredibly holy path as she fell in love with the Jewish community. She did not have this vibrant community growing up as LA is like Disney World for Jews; it was surreal.

So, she dove into the community and worked with many people over the years, like Craig Taubman and JQ International and various others. After graduate school in becoming a social worker she was looking for a job and she never thought she would work at a Conservative synagogue as she had very little experience with this community and many assumptions. But a Rabbi she respected said she should apply and it was literally the best interview she had out of all her job interviews. It was being transparent and an honest human that got her this job and it's been such an incredible community. It is haimish, she has met such wonderful people and she has never felt judged, whatsoever. It feels like home to her. One of the biggest blessings she finds is that she gets to work with the members to build programs and she gets to know them on a personal level. Lia finds her values of being of service, vulnerability and transparency are embraced at Temple Beth Am as her goals are to build relationships and identity. If there is anything she wants people to know, it's that she deeply values providing a safe space for people to talk with her and to not hesitate to reach out should you need anything.

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