Jewish Memories – Our Stories, Our Experiences

by Arliene Botnick, November 26, 2020

The essence of one’s Jewish identity is hard to define. One hears phrases like “a Yiddish kop” = a Jewish (head) mindset, or “pintele yid” = a little core of Jewishness in our being, or “Yiddishah Neshemah” = a Jewish soul. And sometimes, these terms are used to describe not only Jews, but those who are so integral to Jewish life and survival that they display some deep rooted (though not official) sense of Jewish identity. And, of course, at Solel, those terms can actually describe many of our non-Jewish partners who are part of the strong and resilient foundation of Solel. They are supportive partners, teachers in our Bet Sefer, committee members, regular shul attendees, and so on. Solel is enriched by their supportive presence.

So, periodically, I try to assess how to define Jewish identity. There are the mitzvot, many of which (especially the moral and ethical commandments) we hope that all humankind obey (feed the hungry, do not commit murder, honour your parents). There are the ritual mitzvot (keeping kosher, shabbat restrictions, laws of ritual purity) that, as Reform Jews, we assess and re-evaluate, not negating, but “reforming: what they can mean. So, perhaps we may no longer lay tefillin (put on phylacteries), but “binding God’s words” as a sign upon our hands may mean that we fulfill that mitzvah by doing God’s work (using our hands).

There are the holidays we celebrate that may define us – the lighting of the Shabbat candles, fasting on Yom Kippur, getting ready for Chanukah by preparing latkes. And each of us, in our own way, may celebrate holidays and perform the rituals in somewhat varied forms.

But the one constant I believe is in our Jewish identity is our stories and our experiences. And this really was solidified for me last year at Chanukah and just in a minor may, reaffirmed this past Shabbat as a granddaughter, her camp friend, and I were watching the 7:30 Kabbalat Shabbat service, and our music teacher, Ron, began singing, “I am a Latke.” Immediately, we all recalled last year’s Chanukah where the whole family and their boyfriends, girlfriends (Jews and non-Jews) sat crowded on my living floor as Ron played the piano and some 20 young adults lay flat on the floor, arms extended, until the chorus of “I am a Latke” roused them up as they lifted their arms in a raucous chorus of “I am a Latke.” The memory of them singing that at age 5, and now at age 15-30 reverberated in my living room and all their significant others joined the chorus and began creating and sharing a Jewish memory. This past Friday, once again (with only 2 young adults), that memory had them flat on the floor, arms outstretched, waiting and joining Ron (who was on livestream) by singing at the top of their lungs “I am a latke!”

I’m convinced that as long as that experience is remembered, as long as that story is retold, whatever is the essence of our Jewish identity, it will live on.

So, be it what we share as a family, what we celebrate with our Solel community, what we study together, as long as “we” continue, Judaism will continue. Whenever I tell my “Jennie” stories, the stories my mom shared with my sisters and me as we were growing up, I know my mom knows that her yiddishkeit is alive and well, and though changing in every generation, her stories, my stories, your stories are of tantamount and long-lasting importance.

Have a great Chanukah and “don’t let the lights go out.”

Filed under: Educator's Message

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