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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

What does it mean to be a Jew?

I skipped over this article in the May/June issue of Moment magazine the first time I flipped through the issue, I suppose as a measure of how cynical I've become.  I've considered this question many times over the years, especially since becoming a parent, but I can't say I've arrived at a satisfactory answer. 

I did go back and read the comments from 15 "rising stars" in the Jewish community, including political writer Ezra Klein, Groupon founder Eric Lefkowsky, and author Alison Krauss.

Here's a few of the remarks that struck me:

I think being a Jew today means pretty much the same thing as it always has: responsibility. Responsibility to give back, to look forward, and be an example of a community that serves others before themselves. - Rachael Neumann (founder, non-profit)

Being a Jew means living a life committed to “doing the right thing,” inspired by the idea that we are all one, created in the image of God. It means to walk through this world knowing that whatever I do to my neighbor, it’s as if I’m doing it to myself. - Michelle Citrin (singer/songwriter)

My Jewish heritage has given me a lot: Jews bring resistance, will and commitment, and I apply that to my everyday life. I have a will to succeed in life, and when things are bad, I march on forward. - Spike Mendelsohn (chef)

Being a Jew today is being an engaged human being with a moral code. We must study and understand our values. Judaism must enter into us, and we must work with that knowledge through our individual prisms. We will take away different lessons and project what we understand back into the world, trying to do Tikkun Olam, to make it a better place for everyone. - Shyne (rapper)

20 years ago I would have swooned over these lofty words, they would have resonated in my very soul.  Today, I literally roll my eyes.  I don't think any of this is true.  Jews are no more committed to repairing the world than are other people.  Jews have no stronger moral code than others.  Jews are no more determinied than others.  The Jews I know spend no more time contemplating the meaning of their heritage than do the members any other ethnic group.  Certainly most Jews I know are just as self-involved as other middle class Americans.  At least the rapper is saying that this is what we should be, rather than what we are.  I actually agree with him.



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