On Being Jewish

Kate at One More Thing is doing a weekly carnival of sorts, choosing a topic for other bloggers to write about.  This week’s topic is “Religion”.

Ever since I was a young girl I have felt the responsibility of being Jewish.  A responsibility to practice the religion, to remember those who died defending it or because if it, to behave and accomplish in a way befitting G-d’s chosen people.

But even more than the responsibility of being Jewish, what I felt most was fear.  Fear of another Holocaust, fear of being attacked by a pogrom, fear of the anti-semitism being practiced and publicized all throughout the world.  I would try to concoct ways to fool oppressors into thinking I wasn’t Jewish, in an effort to save myself from my ancestors’ fate.  It’s scary for a kid to think that someone is going to come and take them away and kill them just because of their religion – and one they didn’t choose at that.   And all of these atrocities were talked about at length in synagogues, in Hebrew school, at holidays.  Never forget, we are warned.  Never forget.

As a teenager I went through the process of becoming a Bat Mitzvah, and I even enjoyed the process.  There was comfort in the traditions and the prayers and the belief in G-d.  But I was also becoming aware of the stereotypes that dogged my fellow Semites, and I was embarrassed that many of them were dead-on.  Not for EVERY Jew, to be sure, but for many of those I met.

One day a rabbi gave a sermon that had me see clearly what my biggest issue was with organized Judaism.  He was talking about Jews being G-d’s chosen people – a frequent and recurrent theme in Jewish services.  But that day I got what really bugged me about my religion.  It seemed to me that many of the  Jews out there, especially the ones exhibiting the hated stereotypes, saw being “G-d’s chosen people” as responsibility that proves our superiority.

In my mind, though, that was a biiiiiiiig mistake.  To me being one of the chosen means that He indeed gave us responsibility, but responsibility from a place of humility.

That was such an epiphany for me, and as a result I pretty much pulled away from the temple, and practicing my religion.  I became a part-time Jew – weddings, bar mitzvahs and the High Holy Days.  I still believe in G-d, and still pray on occasion.   I’ve often said that if I could find a temple with real people who  just happened to be Jewish that I’d gladly join.   I’ve never found that.  Some friends say that has more to do with living where I live – that what I yearn for flourishes  in places like Alabama and Utah, where Jews are much fewer and further between.  Which is why I did consider Alabama

Now that I’m older I’m willing to give those stereotypical Jews a little slack.   When you’re persecuted over centuries and struggle to survive, perhaps the best way to do that is to stick together and declare yourselves superior.  When our kids are being picked on by bullies don’t we tell them to ignore the taunts and jeers, and point out and encourage their best qualities?  It’s not such a far leap to see how that sense of superiority developed…

But now that Son is getting older I’m finding, like so many other parents, that I want religion to be a part of his life.  I like the idea of G-d, whether he truly exists or not.  I want Son to have that spirituality, to have that private relationship.   So I’m looking for a temple, willing to give my religion another chance.  And I’m hoping that I’ll find one that will help show Son the joys of tradition and being a mensch, and accepting that responsibility of being G-d’s chosen with a bit of humility.

Are you out there?


2 Responses to “On Being Jewish”

  1. Lisa Says:

    Living near a huge Hasidic enclave/sect (New Square), I can totally see how those superiority teachings are really in overdrive for them. I never knew about it until reading your post, but totally sensed that something like that must be incorporated into their practice of the religion; especially for the men. One can tell they function with a very overriding sense of self-importance. To the point where it really seems that they are caught in a constant personal Catch-22; everything they do is very important that they have to rush to do it, and then everything they still have to do is more important than what they are currently doing, so they are impatient and pushy and they rush from place to place (driving fast and literally running from their cars to where they need to do their business). They are notoriously poor drivers, and I don’t think it’s because they are naturally bad drivers, but rather they choose to drive aggressively and quickly because it gets them to where they’re going faster (or at least it might, theoretically, get them there more quickly, which helps satisfy their sense of incredible urgency). I’m really surprised I haven’t seen a Hasidic man just drop dead of a heart attack yet.

    I certainly don’t begrudge them their beliefs (and who among us, honestly, doesn’t have our own sense of superiority, behind the tact and humility most of us are taught?!?). I just kind of feel bad for them, it doesn’t seem like a very fun way to live. Maybe they really relax and have fun at home, but I’ve certainly never seen a Hasidic man look like he’s enjoying himself in public. They just seem agitated and stressed and annoyed with the world. 😦

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