What Does It Mean to You to Be Jewish?

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, February 28, 2016

“What does it mean to you to be Jewish?” A friend who teaches grade six students asked for responses for his Hebrew school class via social media. The class created a survey about Jewish values which asked “How would you answer? What is important to YOU about being Jewish? On a scale of 1-10, one being ‘I don’t care about this at all’ and ten meaning ‘this is really important to me’, what is a ‘ten’ for you and what is a ‘one’? There are no “right” or “wrong” answers for each question. We are interested in what YOU think is important to YOU about being Jewish.”

The class included these categories in their survey: Remembering the Holocaust, Working for justice and equality, Caring about Israel, Having a sense of humor, Being part of a Jewish community, Keeping Kosher, Keeping Shabbat, Going to synagogue/praying, Having a bar/bat mitzvah, Eating traditional Jewish foods, Studying Jewish history, Learning or speaking Hebrew.

As I worked through my own answers I was reminded of an exercise that I have led with many different groups in the synagogue, although I most often use it as a discussion program with groups of pre bar and bat mitzvah students and their parents. We gather in mixed up groups of students and adults so that parents will be with kids from different families. Each group has a series of cards that they have to put in order of what is most important and what is least important for the Jewish future. Each group works together to achieve consensus; if there is disagreement, one of the group members must work to convince the members of his group that a particular Jewish value or Jewish idea is more or less important than the value or idea that is next on the list. These are fascinating conversations, and no group’s list is in the same order of priority as the next group. Then we break down the process and talk about how each group came to their decisions. It’s a challenging group process. Each person has his or her own ideas about what it means to be Jewish, and as the group works on clarifying its priorities, many participants find themselves with more questions than answers. That is of course, one of the points of the exercise, as well as being able to see and honour different points of view. There is strength in our diversity.
How would you answer? What is most important to you about being Jewish? I’d love to hear from you.
Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

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