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  • Jake Sheykhet '25


Updated: May 2

The image is the cover of my semi-transparent book titled Mirror. It's a self-portrait—as is the rest of the book. It contains my thoughts, sketches, notes, desires, and doubts. It contains the person I was in March of 2023—when the book was made. There are endless stories about me that it could tell. Fortunately for the readers, we only have time for one.

Emet—the Hebrew word for truth—is scrawled on the lower right-hand corner of the cover. The writing mirrors my only tattoo. In real life, aleph, mem, and tav are engraved on the left side of my chest, atop my heart.

As the child of two Soviet-Jewish immigrants, I always had a strong—albeit unconventional—Jewish identity. I'd occasionally attend Hebrew school, though I never made an effort to learn the language. To this day I feel a bit out of place during services. Organized religion was suppressed in the USSR. Thus, many of the customs and rituals that are traditionally a part of Judaism were foreign to my family. Yet, for both my parents and grandparents, Judaism was at the core of their being. Their Jewish identity was forged in the antisemitism of the Soviet Union. Whether it be quotas that restricted the number of Jewish students that could attend universities, "comrades" that called them slurs, or corrupt officials that barred my father from being a high school valedictorian due to his ethnicity, they grew up in an environment that forced their identity upon them. When they came to America—hoping to build a better life for themselves and their children—their Jewish identity came with them. 

I was the first member of my family to be born on American soil. Here, my family gained some familiarity with Jewish rituals—the knowledge of which they completely lacked in the Soviet Union. We lit Shabbat candles every Friday, celebrated the high holidays, and recited the HaMotzi. My sister had a bat mitzvah, and I had a bar mitzvah. Yet, we were never comfortable with Jewish customs. When I misread my Torah portion during my bar mitzvah none of my family could tell. The brand of Judaism we practiced was our own. Fragments of identity pulled variously from Eastern European, American, and familial traditions came together to form a powerful whole. One of these fragments was my father's occasional telling of the Golem story. 

Golem was a sculpture brought to life by a Prague rabbi to protect the city's Jewry. Emet was inscribed on Golem's forehead to bring him to life. When Golem turned on his handler and became a menace to the city—the Rabbi erased Aleph from the creature's forehead. Thus, emet—truth—turned into met—dead. Golem was no more. I always loved the story. In it, I felt the creative capacity of words, sculpture, and the Jewish tradition. After taking a Kabbalah class during my freshman year at Brown, and learning a bit more about Golem and the tradition he grew out of, I decided to engrave the story in my chest. 

I've never been happier with the decision to get the tattoo than I am today. It reminds me of my roots. It commands me to live honestly—true to who I am. Amidst the turbulence left in the wake of October 7th and the Israel-Hamas war, this reminder is particularly important. As antisemitism continues to rise both on campus and across the United States, as our future in this country feels as uncertain as ever, the tattoo gives me a sense of inescapable resolve. I am, and always will be, a Jew. There's no sense in running from it, it's written on my chest. 

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