Why Be Jewish?
The final Heritage class took place last week for Dallas 13. One of their assignments for their “siyyum” was to write, practice and then deliver a 60-second “elevator pitch” that answered the question “Why Be Jewish?” This was to crystallize their thinking on this fundamental question (that many Jewish leaders never actually answer for themselves) AND to work on public speaking skills: being succinct, substantive, engaging, compelling. They succeeded with flying colors and here are a few examples, with thanks to Michael Waldman (Dallas 13) for compiling:
Being Jewish to me is about connecting with others — feeling and living the connection. I enjoy knowing that all Jews are connected in some way. To me, being Jewish is not so much about the religious aspect, such as study or going to Temple, as much as it is about the longstanding traditions, our culture and the ability to question G-d and what one believes.
Being Jewish serves as a framework for my life and provides me with identity and purpose. Judaism connects me to my PAST and the rich history of my family, many of whom left their birth countries to experience freedom of religion in America. It guides me in my PRESENT life and is based on values I live by and try to instill in my children, such as the importance of family, tradition and speaking up for our beliefs. It gives me the opportunity to affect the FUTURE and make a difference in the world around me through Tikun Olam and encouraging others to take action to make the world a better place.
To be Jewish is to identify with the moral code of our ancestors; to take the values of what has come before us, cherish them, honor them and teach them to our children in order to preserve the Jewish enlightenment we value. To be Jewish isn’t to just be a JEW, it is to respect and preserve the threads of our culture that bind us to our history, triumphs and tragedies. To be Jewish is to pass on to our children a sense of Jewishness, lest we forget what it means to struggle our own Jewish identity — traditions, perspectives and relationships within our community. For me, being Jewish means having close ties to our homeland: to actively support and ensure the existence of Israel’s future and her economy — and not take for granted the fragility of her need for support from the diaspora. To be a Jew is to understand how without a homeland, our existence as a Jewish community is threatened, our children at risk. To be Jewish is to question one’s own existence and purpose, and to remember the struggles of Jews who came before us. To be Jewish is to celebrate.
Sue Fox Schwartz
Being Jewish is about deepening our everyday moments. It takes what could be regular, daily living, and makes it more important, more sacred. We are in this life for the long haul, and being Jewish provides a framework for how to live with significance within our life continuum. Jewish practices weren’t invented yesterday — they have stood the test of time. They allow us to turn to an ancient tradition for wisdom in times of hardship and stress. Shabbat guides how to make more out of life than accumulating wealth by moving us from a place of doing to a place of being. Kashrut teaches us that we are not merely animals, but that we can take an everyday activity, like eating, and elevate it to make it holy through a spiritual diet.
Morning blessings from our liturgy teach us to begin our day with gratitude, a daily reminder to look at the glass half full.
Being Jewish provides a framework for teaching kids more responsibility. Judaism offers a manual for living life based on a solid foundation of ethics, morals and values. And… being Jewish transforms ordinary life into a life of deeper meaning.
We have a long history with shared values, experiences, hopes and dreams. Our ancient and modern texts provide historical insight and guidance as to how to handle today’s opportunities and challenges. Our traditions provide a way for us to come together at the times we need to the most, and are passed from generation to generation, providing the framework to understand the awe, beauty and wonder in the world. Judaism provides the glue that holds us together, giving meaning to one’s life beyond making money and attaining possessions. It allows us to truly repair the world.
Being Jewish helps me realize that conflict and adversity are normal and that innovation is nothing new. We are the latest link in a tradition that dates back thousands of years regardless of changes in our environment or challenges to our existence. We have demonstrated the ability to maintain our covenant with God while modifying our practices to ensure survival. This is a tradition I carry with me as I encounter challenges in my own life. Being Jewish provides a template to maintain a moral compass but remain open to ideas that may seem unconventional or even uncomfortable. Being Jewish is being adaptive.
Judaism is rich in beautiful tradition and ritual, and is imbued with positivity. Judaism gives me a feeling of belonging and warmth, creating loving and caring community and venerating family. I love that Judaism emphasizes education — depth of study and lifelong learning — it challenges us to never be stagnant. While Judaism honors the past, it is focused on the present with hope for the future. Judaism inspires me to be the best person I can be in the here and now, to always strive for better, and to do good in the world. I like who I am as a Jew.
I choose to be Jewish because the values of Judaism provide a robust framework for engaging morally and thoughtfully with all living things. Its emphasis on “deed over creed” compels me to actively work to correct as best I can the world’s ills. It’s an ongoing conversation through which I can personally connect with God, and I find comfort, reassurance and unity in its continuity and tribalism.
Why be Jewish? Because to be Jewish is to embrace the heritage of our millennial culture. Being Jewish means being unique and being Jewish is your essence. You are a direct descendant of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob, Rachel and Leah. Moses delivered you from Egypt, you stood with HaShem at Sinai and entered the Promised Land with Joshua. Being Jewish is who you are, you cannot deny it, relinquish it or renounce it. Being Jewish is your essence, its your core and your destiny. Embrace it, live it, celebrate it.
For me, being Jewish is extremely personal as well as communal. Judaism’s traditions and relevance today feeds both my head and my heart. It provides me with a structure and a blueprint of how to best live my life and encourages me to ask questions to learn and to grow. Being Jewish provides me meaningful connections — a connection to G-d, to a history, to a people, to a supportive community and to a future.
To be Jewish is to continue the traditions started by my ancestors, continued to my grandparents, who survived the Holocaust, and passing that on to my children. Being Jewish is something that is at the core of my being, the true essence of who I am. Being Jewish means that I am part of a larger community which supports and nurtures each other in happy times and in times of crisis. Being Jewish means that I will be proud of my Judaism no matter where I am!
Why be Jewish, you ask? Because the world needs what Jews do. The world needs people who get up each day singularly committed to the idea of making this world, not the next world, a better place. The world needs people who believe that deep study, healthy debate and a respect for both the majority and the minority opinion will yield better decisions. And most importantly, the world needs a people that no matter how many times they are knocked down, keep getting back up and keep doing the things the world needs.
When I learned about what the Jewish people have gone through for thousands of years to preserve this religion, I was intrigued. What could be so special that generation after generation would engage in the most innovative and heroic acts to pass Judaism down to the next generation? After spending one hour studying Torah with a great teacher, the joy and inner peace that I felt made me understand why this being Jewish deal was worth my ancestors’ fight.
Being Jewish has instilled in me an unbreakable sense of community. We have the intrinsic ability to find a common ground no matter what walk of life you come from. While we can agree and disagree on many things, it is our common Jewish Values, belief in God, and our deep history that binds us together. Being a part of something so unique and special that is greater than myself, while living a life of good deeds, brings richness to me and my family, and our journey adds to the greater story of the Jewish People. I am truly honored to be a part of such a phenomenal group of people.