Emma Yang Rosman, 18, was sitting in her kitchen with her father last month when she got a phone call from Hillel International. She didn’t pick up the first time, but after hearing a voicemail message with a promise of good news, she immediately called them back.
That’s when she found out that she had won a $4,000 scholarship from Hillel International. Rosman is the international treasurer for BBYO, a Jewish teen nonprofit. Now, she is looking forward to her freshman year at Virginia Tech where she will study in the Honors College at the Pamplin College of Business.
What was your reaction when you found out that you received Hillel International’s Handeli First-Year Student Scholarship?
I was definitely shocked because I wrote and applied to a lot of schools and scholarships. I had a lot of supplemental essays that I had to do, I think maybe 50 or 60 supplemental essays. It kind of just all got lost in the masses. I wasn’t waiting for them to call me so when I got a call I actually didn’t answer the first time. My dad was with me when I saw the voicemail, which said, “Hey, we have some great news, if you could call us back.” I called them back and it was just a very exciting time for my family.
How did BBYO help you find a community?
I think it was mainly an accumulation of just going to events and feeling welcomed at every single event I went to. I think BBYO leaders go out of their way to be extra inclusive and make sure that there’s a home and there’s a space for everyone, including me, even though I didn’t look like everybody else.
How do the intersections of your identity influence you?
I mentioned in one of my essays that I have three different names. I have my English name, Emma Yang Rosman. My middle name, Yang, came from my Chinese name that I was given in the orphanage when I was born in China. Hong Yang is my Chinese name. I also have a Hebrew name that my parents gave me, and that’s Elisheva Yael.
So in my scholarship essays, I talked about how these three different names kind of made up myself and spoke to who I am and how a lot of people can sometimes see those three things as a kind of contrast to each other. But for me, it felt like they summed up who I am, and they all brought different parts that, without one of those identities, I wasn’t me.
Were there ever times where you felt frustrated as a Jew of color?
Arlington is definitely very predominantly white and predominantly Christian and that oftentimes made me a minority in my class. I’ve always been proud of being Jewish and I always have a Jewish star on my neck, or a Hamsa necklace. That can sometimes be confusing to other people, especially if they don’t understand Judaism. When we learned about the Holocaust in fourth or fifth grade, people would stare my way. Or when we learned about ancient China, people would have questions for me.
It’s funny, because people think I have all the answers and oftentimes I don’t, which means that it’s a learning process for everyone, not just the people around me.
On the flip side, were there times when you felt empowered by your identity?
I have two younger brothers who are also adopted. They’re also Chinese. I hope they see the work that I’ve done with racial justice within BBYO and the work that I do personally to figure out what it means to be growing up in Arlington, to be growing up in the U.S. as someone who has multiple different intersectionalities of my identity, which they also hold as well.
What does being Jewish mean to you?
I think the really cool thing about Judaism is the fact that we’re living in the present and we always look forward. It’s the two concepts of l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation, and tikkun olam, repairing the world. I think those two go hand in hand. It’s so important to make sure that you’re setting up inclusivity, that you’re setting up pluralism and that you’re setting up racial justice for future generations.