What does it mean to be Jewish?
What does it mean to be Jewish? How many times have you been asked this question – it seems like outsiders can’t get enough of Jews and what they represent. But, the truth is; this is a valid question, and sooner or later each of us will be confronted with answering this question.
Of course, I understand you have your own opinion of what it means to be Jewish, and I respect that. So I hope you would forgive me for weighing in on my own too if it doesn’t accord with yours.
Jewish people share a common heritage and are more or less affected by the same issues today. They live in a world where their religion is an intrinsic part of their identity. No matter their stance on the political and religious spectrums – this common bond unites them and affect how they relate to each other and the outside world.
So, to me, what does it mean to be Jewish?
God-consciousness: This is the subtle thread that runs through every fabric of a Jewish identity. This to me is at the core of my ‘Jewish.’ everything else comes after.
To observe Shabbat: What could make one feel more Jewish than following and fulfilling the religious aspects of Judaism? This particular day has a significant meaning for me in that it affords me an opportunity to unwind refocus and reconnect with what’s important to me – God and family.
Keeping the Kosher: Now, you’d say this is obvious, but I genuinely do enjoy these daily rituals. It strengthens my connection with my heritage. Come to think of it, what is being Jewish without keeping kosher?
Keeping the Mitzvot: Yeah I understand that some of us may not feel comfortable being ‘commanded’ – this is especially true for some of us in the western world – it feels like being deprived of the right to choose. But, it was recorded in the Torah that when God gave the commandments, He declared:
Behold, I have set before you the blessing [of observing the commandments] and the curse [the potential punishment for failing to keep the mitzvot] — therefore, choose life!
It seemed to me that even God understood that the Jews have a say in the matter, though we were pointed to make the right choice. To me, I believe that the mitzvoth are the guiding lamping on how one should go about leading a Jewish life.
Placing emphasis learning: Looking at our history, I believe one of the essential tenets that helped us as a people survive all the ordeals was our love for knowledge. Even in persecution, tribulations, and in exile, we saw it just as another opportunity to learn and to enrich the mind. This is profound, and I identify with it.
Today, we can see the manifestations of this love, in that there’s a disproportionate representation of our people at the top of almost every profession.
The indescribable feeling of being part of history: We as a people has been here for so long – we’ve watched empires rise and fall; we’ve seen wars; we’ve seen other nations rise and fall – and we’re still here. And mind you, we’re going nowhere. Being part of a long chain of history, of a collective consciousness, knowing that I’m from a well stock – that’s what being Jewish means to me.
Having the Jewish sense of humor: Nobody can take that away from us – we laugh at ourselves, we laugh at others – this is who we are. In the face of all we’ve been through as a people, it makes perfect sense to develop a coping mechanism that can’t be taken away no matter the circumstance.