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Is It Cool to Be a Jew?

If we expanded the view of cool to include pride, I believe we’d be on to something.
December 8, 2022
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Recently, during a lively conversation about religion, being a Jew and life on a college campus, one of the professors in a department of Jewish Studies, a young Jewish woman, said “It’s not cool to be Jewish.” That thought perplexed me, so I reflected on its possible meaning.

I am a child of Holocaust survivors. I grew up aware of my family’s suffering though not a word was shared about their experiences to me directly. I saw their numbers, I felt their emotional tenor in our home, the great elephant in the room that really was never acknowledged. I also felt my mother’s survivor guilt and her overwhelming sadness and depression having lost every one of her family members.

Yet my synagogue experience, the attention to ritual life and holidays at home, the kinds of books on our shelves, the music that wafted through the rooms in our home, and the conversations shared with their friends, mainly other Holocaust survivors, all left me with a great love of my religion. It gave my soul nourishment and happiness to be identified as a Jew. Meeting and marrying Rabbi Steve, this most erudite of rabbis, opened the door even wider in ways I never could have imagined. But did all of this make it “cool” to be a Jew?

What is it that makes anything cool? Does the darkness of the Holocaust — or any suffering — preclude any coolness? That would be true if coolness meant only things that are fun and popular.

What is it that makes anything cool? Does the darkness of the Holocaust — or any suffering — preclude any coolness? That would be true if coolness meant only things that are fun and popular.

But if we expanded the view of cool to include pride, I believe we’d be on to something.

There are people, particularly young adults on college campuses, who are ashamed and probably fearful of calling themselves Jews. My husband Rabbi Steve’s recent sermon spoke to that discomforting reality as expressed in the book, “It Can Happen Here,” by Jonathan Greenblatt. The book is a reminder of the potential harm that lays in wait to those of us who call ourselves Jewish. Our options are to either cower, hide from who we are, or find virtue and pride in being a Jew. I believe that part of countering adversity and antisemitism is being present, fully engaged, and showing the world the strength, the virtues, and the Jewish pride in who we are and how we live our lives. 

The more I learn about Judaism the more I am astounded by its depth of wisdom and its breadth of human understanding. The psycho-emotional and spiritual underpinnings provide us with a pathway to understand our lives with greater awareness and enlightenment, to explore our inner world with more compassion and conviction, to experience the calendar with richer textures and elevated personal and home rituals. Our tradition is not just routine performance. It is a layering of meaning and purpose to the ordinary in our lives and lifting them with holiness, but also surrendering to the sacred, paying attention to all life-cycle and ceremonial moments over the course of our lives. 

Our tradition is living values and morality that cares about the other, that asks for empathy and compassion in all things personal, professional, and familial. It honors the frailty and the mortality of being human and gives us the gift and opportunity to correct, change, enhance, or transform any moment in which we have gone astray, disappointed others, or ourselves. It is a tradition that honors the need to nourish the mind, the body, and the soul recognizing that all three are essential and deserve respect and ones’ attention. 

There certainly will be difficult issues that we must face in the Jewish world and of course in Israel. If we care about freedom and dignity for all then we must be willing to speak for what is right. Jews are not perfect, and Judaism struggles as well amongst itself. To be Jewish is to struggle. 

This constant spiritual struggle defines our identity and nourishes our Jewish pride. It gives us the courage to wear our Jewish stars, to honor our ancestors, and to never be afraid to own up to who we are, imperfections and all.

I would argue that’s pretty cool.


Eva Robbins is a rabbi, cantor, artist and the author of “Spiritual Surgery: A Journey of Healing Mind, Body and Spirit.”

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