I was born in California but my parents moved to Oregon to become farmers when I was 5, and I adopted the life of a young cowboy for a few years. Because of a drop in cattle and timber prices, and a desire to give my brother and I a solid education, my parents decided to move back to California when I was 13. Around the time we all moved back to California, we converted to Judaism as a family. It was then that I had to make several huge cultural and linguistic adjustments.
Upon returning to California, I was placed in Long Beach Hebrew Academy, where I had to quickly learn Hebrew and Aramaic (to follow my classes in religious topics), and adapt to a slew of new rules and customs. I moved straight from living a completely rural existence, into the rigors of a private Jewish education. The wholly secular culture I once lived in was a thing of the past. My being Japanese on my mother’s side did not help me blend in easily with my new peers, who already considered me an oddity because of my lack of a traditional Jewish background.
Until I graduated from high school I struggled to keep up with other students in Talmud classes, (ethics, law, philosophy, and history) due to my late entrance into the world of Yeshiva education, but I persisted nevertheless and forced myself to maintain a positive attitude, even when I felt I was unfairly disadvantaged. I earned the trust and friendship of the people around me by consciously fostering a cheerful persona, and by being genuinely interested in learning. It was those two efforts that helped me through what could easily have been a lonely and unhappy adolescence.
Early in my life, I was exposed simultaneously to the complex textual analysis of challenging subjects in several languages, and to the difficulties of a total lifestyle reversal. I discovered in tackling those obstacles that staying strong meant focusing my energy and time on the fostering of strong friendships and human bonds, as well intensely focusing on self-improvement in the academic arena.
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