Savita Helyar (21) was adopted from southeast India when she was just a little over one year old. On a plane with another Indian girl, Savita landed in Los Angeles, California to meet her mom, dad, and older brother.
“It wasn’t a big secret that I was adopted. I’m brown in a white family. Like we all knew that. My parents were really good about it. They bought me books of Indian cartoons or Indian stories and they took me to get saris when I was younger,” Savita said.
After her parent’s divorce, along with moving around to different houses in different cities, Savita’s family found it difficult to find a synagogue that matched their ideals as well as their diversity. Then attending a Catholic high school, Savita felt like she lost her Jewish identity even more.
After taking a Jewish identity course at California State University, Northridge, Savita felt like she was able to explore more of who she was as a Jew.
“The very first day we had to introduce ourselves. One of the questions was ‘What’s your affiliation with Judaism?’ And I was like ‘I’m Jewish.’ And my professor said, ‘Ok not to point you out, but see everybody she’s brown.’ She kind of validated my sense of being Jewish. Where as if I said that to other people growing up they would question me, ‘Do you do this? Do you do that?’”
Now belonging to a diverse temple in Los Angeles with her mother, Savita goes at least every two weeks. Although she feels like she is at peace with her Jewish identity, she still finds it difficult having to answer strangers pondering questions about her.
“I have to somehow explain my whole life story which is kind of infuriating. I don’t want to have to do that every time I meet someone and I don’t think I should have to.”