Last week I asked the question, “Why be Jewish?” I received many thoughtful comments and ideas. Here are some (edited by me). See which resonate with you.
- I am Jewish because I am a Jew.
- Judaism provides me with a community.
- I admit to being perplexed by the question. There has never been a moment in my conscious life that I had any question about being Jewish or even considered that there was an option not to be - in part because my family were committed Jews, in part because I grew up with a lot of anti-Semitism, in part because I began Hebrew school at an early age and continued to attend through high school, so that I was nearly fluent by the first time I arrived for a six-month stay in Israel at age 16. I'm not a believer, and neither is anyone else in my immediate family. But this has never made any difference to my sense of belonging to the Jewish people. What has made a difference is the insistence of some Jews that one must support the state of Israel or think of it as the center of Jewish life to be a Jew.
- In an age when we like quantifiable answers, there aren't any to this question, which makes all the responses seem ephemeral. My response stems from comparing what might be called the "covenant" in Judaism and Christianity. Of course, there are different aspects of the covenant in both religions but I think it's important to look at the rewards promised for proper behavior in both Judaism and Christianity. Judaism's covenant is concerned with the well-being of future generations, not Christianity’s focus on personal salvation.
- I am Jewish not so that I can tell others how to live, but because Judaism helps me to become a better human being. We are certainly an imperfect civilization with good Jews and bad ones as any other group has. Most enlightening of all is our instruction to love our neighbors - the critical task we have as Jews - and the hardest to fulfill. May we strive every day to be a more loving and tolerant individual and, by doing so, repair the world one person at a time.
- It is our duty to be the advertisers for G-d. (all products need great advertising campaigns). Us Jews are to be the PR campaign for G-d/monotheism/living a moral life. If we do a good job, the entire world will see and "buy" what we are selling.
- Jews believe you do NOT need to be Jewish to go to heaven or connect to G-d (as far as I know we are the only religion like this). However, as Jews we have extra opportunities as we are given additional Mitzvot. Mitzvot are opportunities for us to connect to G-d and bring us closer to him. With the Torah, G-d gave us the blueprint how to get closer to him. Follow the blueprint, and we'll have more meaning and closeness to G-d.
- Judaism helps me create holiness in time. Shabbat and our sacred holidays offer us a compass, helping us actively create meaning as we live our lives.
- Aren’t we all truly Jews by choice? How do you choose Judaism?
- Can you choose to ignore your family heritage? My decision comes from a sense of peoplehood. A belief that we are truly one people.
- I converted to Judaism. It was a beautiful and lengthy process. I observed holidays and tried out new rituals. I spoke with many people, including many bewildered family members. I decided to commit myself to Judaism because of its rich history, values, and connections. It was my calling.
- Judaism insists that I question and use critical thinking as ways to improve ourselves and the world around us.
- I may argue that I didn’t choose to be Jewish. I was born Jewish. There was no choice involved. My parents were Jewish, and my grandparents before them. Being Jewish is just a part of me -- the religious and cultural heritage that I did not choose, much like I did not choose my eye color or place of birth.
One person shared the following from Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:
- I am a Jew not because I believe that Judaism contains all there is of the human story. I admire other traditions and their contributions to the world. Nor am I a Jew because of anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism. What happens to me does not define who I am: ours is a people of faith, not fate.
- I am a Jew because I am a connecting link between the generations. The dreams and hopes of my ancestors live on in me, and I am the guardian of their trust, now and for the future.
- I am a Jew because our ancestors were the first to see that the world is driven by a moral purpose. The Judaic tradition shaped the moral civilization of the West, teaching for the first time that human life is sacred, that the individual may never be sacrificed for the mass, and that rich and poor, great and small, are all equal before G-d.
These are only a few snippets, and I would love to hear more from you.
A few quick announcements:
Please answer the call this Sunday for our community’s Super Sunday between 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Sunday afternoon Jewish Federation is providing an important workshop, The Mainstreaming of Antisemitism in America: Effective Strategies for Responding. It is open to the entire community with a special focus on Jewish educators, parents and students grades 9-12. Find out what you can do individually and as a community to fight this ugly scourge. Register here and walk-ins welcomed.
Finally, I am so excited for the new Jewish Review, which will have their first issue on Wednesday, March 4! Make sure you receive it, please sign up here.