Temple Newsletter for July 21
What most animates your Jewish identity? I hear all the time of people who claim to “feel” Jewish, even as many of us have a hard time expounding on that feeling.
I’ve spoken often that I think that we Jews know far better what we are against, than what we are for. That is to say that anti-Semitism is a great awakener of Jewish identity for many, if not most Jews. But what is it that we affirm and embrace? I think we need to be able to answer that question if our Judaism is to have rich meaning and purpose in our lives.
For some, being Jewish is rooted in a belief in God and a sacred covenant that was long ago established between God and the Jewish people as set forth in our Torah. For others, it’s about “traditions” that have been passed and learned through our families, be they our celebrations of holidays and life-cycle events such as a Bris or Bar/Bat Mitzvah or a wedding under a Huppah.
For some, it’s a commitment to Israel, and the hope and promise that Israel represents if given a chance to be the country that it wants and needs to be. And for many of us, our Jewish identity is rooted in being born into a unique heritage that has endured throughout the ages. And there are surely many other responses that we might give to our question.
As I think about my own response, I find meaning in all of these things as they are all aspects of my personal Jewish identity. But perhaps most of all, my Judaism is most animated by my knowing that I am part of a people that has clung to a worthy value system whose goal has always been, not to make the world Jewish, but to make the world more humane.
Personally, I find broth great meaning and challenge in the observation of the philosopher, Leo Tolstoy: “A Jew is a sacred being who procured an eternal fire from the heavens, and with it illuminated the earth and those who live on it.” Yes, I believe that our hurting world very much needs the best of what we Jews have brought and still bring to this world: A passionate quest for justice with the faith that we can yet bring moral and spiritual light where there is darkness. Yes, we are the ancient and contemporary bears of hope and a vision of a world at peace with itself.
In one of our traditional blessings, we praise God “Who has made me a Jew.” And while I can’t claim that I recite that blessing often, I am both grateful and proud to be Jewish as I believe it to be a way of living that constantly affirms the preciousness of life, and summons us to be “partners” with God in the ongoing Creation of a better and kinder world.
What most animates your Jewish identity? I would love to hear from you.
Wishing you Shabbat Shalom.
Rabbi David Greenberg
Rabbi David Greenberg