What makes a ‘real’ Jew?


After being alive for 16 years, I would think it would be easy to classify myself into a certain category, and that by now I would know what, who and why I am what I am. But as I grow older, it has become more complicated for me to label myself — secular, religious, Jewish American Mexican, Mexican American Jew.

This is probably a result of the fact that the older I get, the more in-depth I learn about my religion and the more I begin to formulate my own thoughts and opinions about it and about myself. While for a long time I have been able to articulate thoughts on certain religious matters, I have to admit that those opinions were, for the most part, strongly or loosely based on those of my parents and teachers. For example, I was a secular Jew because my mother told me that she was a secular Jew. I considered myself to be a Mexican American teenage girl, who happened to be Jewish, as well, because that was the way I was raised. We would celebrate Shabbat when it was convenient to, and would observe only the “famous” Jewish holidays — Chanukah, Pesach, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot.

I considered a Jew to be a person who knew about the Torah, kept kosher, celebrated Shabbat and who went to temple every Friday night — and anyone who did not, was, in my eyes, not a “real” Jew. This consequently meant that I was not a “real” Jew. The thought of this not only made me hate the religion’s standards — which I myself had set — but it caused me to feel very confused about myself. I wasn’t sure which temple I liked, how to celebrate each holiday, and even how to eat. Everyone I met seemed to have different views than I did, and no one was able to help me understand where I fit in best.

When I started Milken Community High School’s middle school after finishing the sixth grade at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School, I further realized how unacquainted I was with my own feelings toward my religion. Although we had Judaic studies every year, I felt unable to drift away from my parents’ beliefs and create my own.

Then, in 10th grade this past year, I was accepted into the Tiferet Israel Program, for which I left the comfort of my parents’ home and lived in Israel on my own for four months, along with 38 other Milken 10th- graders.

I was relieved to find that one of my friends, Tali, happened to be in Israel at the same time, on a separate school program. Tali, a girl I met at tennis camp, was one of the only people I knew who shared my beliefs — we both agreed that it was not necessary to follow all of the rituals of the Jewish religion. It was not until we reconnected in Israel that I found out her father is an Orthodox rabbi who works at Chabad. This immediately made me wonder how a rabbi, an Orthodox rabbi, a “real” Jew, could raise a “fake” one. I asked Tali what she considered herself to be, and whether or not she felt comfortable with her decision of moving away from her family’s opinions and creating her own. She answered that she respected her parents’ beliefs but did not completely agree with what they stood for. When I asked her if she felt as Jewish as her father, she responded without any hesitation, “I am just as Jewish as my father and mother and you are just as Jewish as them as well.” Hearing those words finally come out of someone’s mouth besides my own was like lifting the world off my shoulders. From that point on I no longer felt uncomfortable with my beliefs, and I no longer felt out of place.

Every day it became clearer to me that there was not one specific way to define a “real” Jew. By observing the amount of pride and devotion that all the Jewish Israelis felt toward their religion, I began to understand that simply believing in God and being proud of the fact that you are Jewish automatically makes you as Jewish as you can get. I was able to see on many different occasions the variety of Jews, and how I did not have to fit into any one of them in order to be Jewish. When our group went to the Kotel, for example, I was able to see ultra-Orthodox Jews, Conservative Jews, Modern Orthodox Jews, and Jews that don’t fit into any of the categories praying toward the Wall, and every one of them accepts the other as a member of the Jewish faith.

All of my experiences in Israel made me able to officially classify myself under a category that I fit into. I now consider myself to be a Jewish Mexican American teenage girl, and I am proud to have it be in that order. I no longer feel disconnected from the rest of the Jewish people, and for the first time in my life, I feel as Jewish as any rabbi who works at Chabad — or any Jew in the world.

Rebecca Suchov just completed the 10th grade at Milken Community High School.<BR>

Five Steps to an Ethical-Action Child


Everything teaches something. Here are five ways to help your children develop an ethical-action consciousness in their everyday lives.

First, be an ethical-action cheerleader and acknowledge your children’s positive behavior. Few learning experiences are as effective as being caught in the act of doing something right. One of the most important things you can do is to simply make sure that your children know that you notice their ethical behavior.

Look for opportunities to acknowledge their ethical decisions and praise them for good moral judgments. When a child offers to help a younger sibling with homework or spontaneously does a favor for someone without expecting anything in return, that child deserves recognition for behavior that reflects good character and values.

Second, reinforce integrity. Every day is filled with opportunities to teach lessons in integrity and trust. Begin by giving children small, easily managed tasks, such as carrying silverware to the dinner table or putting laundry away, and then let the chores become increasingly complex as they grow older.

Every time your child completes an assigned task, tell her how proud you are that she can be trusted to keep her word and follow through on her commitments. This creates a link between integrity, trustworthiness and earning the respect and admiration of loved ones.

Third, use your children’s heroes as teaching examples. Integrity is one of the main ingredients of which children’s media heroes are made — and so, for that matter, are courage, honor, altruism and other positive ethical values. One good way to begin instilling these values is to bring their attention to the way they are expressed by Batman, Superman or other heroes from cartoons, TV and movies.

Any time these heroes act in a way you want your child to emulate can become a teaching moment.

A simple comment like, "What I like most about Steven Seagal’s movies is that he always helps people in need," or "Isn’t it neat how in all the Batman movies he will do just about anything to help the people who need it the most?" will get them thinking in the right direction.

Fourth, find teachable moments in popular culture. Helping your children identify the negative messages they encounter in song lyrics or on TV will to some degree help mitigate the negative effect of the messages themselves. For example, you might ask your children to share with you the words to some of their favorite rock songs, then ask them what they think your impression might be and why. Their answers will reveal much about their attitudes toward the values you think are important, and about how effective you have been in instilling these values in them.

Fifth, nurture your child’s awareness of self. To lead an ethical life, children must be taught the skill of stepping away emotionally from their actions, looking at them objectively and making intelligent choices about whether or not they want to repeat them in the future.

Most children act without examining what they are doing. Teaching them the skill of self-examination and reflection is one of the greatest gifts you can give.

This article originally appeared at jewishfamily.com.

Steven Carr Reuben is senior rabbi at Kehillath Israel in Pacific Palisades.

Latkes That Last


Finally! You can now say goodbye to those weird frozen triangles of premasticated potatoes that pass for latkes after Chanukah has ended and the frying pan and grater have been packed up. Scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have come up with an alternative way to preserve food, which promises to keep latkes frying-pan fresh — even months later — without extreme heat, chemicals or freezing. Instead, they zap the food with pulsed shockwaves — a process that takes a second, but kills microbes, harmful enzymes and bacteria. Since no chemicals are used, the flavor of the food remains the same, but its shelf life is increased exponentially.

"There is really a great need for alternative preservation methods in order to get safety and shelf life," said Dr. Hadassa Zuckerman, a lecturer in food engineering and biotechnology at the Technion, who helped develop this system. "There are many materials that cannot be preserved by heat or other methods because then they lose their functional properties."

Latke eaters are not the only ones who are going to be able to welcome this procedure. Shockwaves are also being used to preserve biological materials such as blood and plasma. "Without this system, it takes approximately one week to preserve plasma," Zuckerman told The Journal. "Our method takes a few seconds."

Zuckerman called this preservation method "revolutionary" and said that they are still testing its uses.

"We were convinced that latkes were only worth eating fresh out of the oven," she said. "Now we may all have to reconsider that notion."

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