What Kind of Jew Are You?

by Rabbi Audrey Pollack, June 27, 2019

How is it that we define ourselves as Jews? Many of you know that I am fond of saying that in the 21st century, all of us are Jews by choice – that is, whether you are born Jewish or convert to Judaism as an adult, each one of us has to actively choose Judaism because it is much easier to passively choose not to make Judaism part of our identities today. The question of “What kind of Jew are you” – Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Secular, Atheist, other – is on the one hand a question of identity, and on the other hand, an issue of where do I feel comfortable. For instance, we have some members who were raised in Conservative or Orthodox congregations, but feel much more comfortable with the worship style and the community that exists here at Solel.

Some of us may have been raised in a culturally Jewish home, with parents for whom Judaism was about family get-togethers on Hannukah and Passover, and attending a public school that had lots of Jewish kids.

Some of us are regular shul goers, at Shabbat services weekly and holiday services throughout the year, while others attend only for a yahrzeit or a special speaker or event. Some of us feel comfortable davening (praying) in Hebrew, while others understand very little of the prayers that we recite in Hebrew.

Some of us want to share good Jewish values and ideals with our family. And others are looking for a deep spiritual connection to their Judaism. And some of us may feel a strong connection to Jewish identity but don’t know where to begin.

The recently released Canadian Jewish population survey shows that what is essential to being Jewish differs by age cohort, by affiliation or non-affiliation, and by those who identify strongly by religion and observance. The importance of living a moral and ethical life increases with age as does working for justice and equality in society. However, younger Jews are most apt to say that being part of a Jewish community is an essential component of their Jewishness.

To be a person who has values being Jewish, also means to actively struggle with what that means. Rather than back away from that wrestling, or using it as an excuse not to actively choose a Jewish identity, it means to ask questions, to search for meaning and identity, and ultimately to persevere.

More important than the question of whether one is a Reform or Orthodox or Conservative Jew is a first question: what does being Jewish mean for me; and this second question: how do I go about living Jewishly according to that definition. By continuing to ask and to wrestle with the questions, one becomes a serious and committed Jew, who finds his place in the community by living out those values and ideals that are part of our beautiful heritage. By continuing to study and learn about the gifts of our tradition, history and culture, and how these guide us in modern life, one begins to feel comfortable and proud of where she is Jewishly. And in the end, it is the struggling and searching that are most valuable, because this continuously offers new perspectives and definitions of what it means personally to be Jewish.

How do you define yourself as a Jew?


Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack

Filed under: Rabbi's Message

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