I Am a Jew Because…

by Arliene Botnick, July 2, 2020

Each year, a “Beit Din” (house of judgement = Rabbinic panel) is held to meet with students who have been enrolled in the Jewish Information Class (JIC) in order to “become,” “convert,” “join the Jewish people.” The three Rabbis on the panel ask a number of questions, and the most asked question goes something like this: “If I were to follow you around for a day (or a week), how would I know you are Jewish?”

That is a really challenging question to be asked and I often wonder how any one of us would answer it. We could say: Visit my home. I have mezzuzot on my doorposts. Look at my wall pictures – Biblical stones in Jewish calligraphy, the Sh’ma framed, the blessing for the home in Hebrew on an eastern wall (Mizrach). Then there are the photos – Bar/Bat Mitzvah photos, wedding photos, photos of bubbies and zaidies who were very very traditional Jews. And perhaps a Kosher kitchen. But not all of us have those things, or perhaps any of those things, yet they too are Jews.

So, how are they Jews? For some, they are Jewish because they are born from a Jewish mother. For the more liberal Jews, it may be that we are born from a Jewish father. For many, like my JIC students, they are Jewish because they chose to learn, study, and join us.

How else can one answer: “Show me how you are Jewish.” Well, we know that High Holidays are coming in the fall and many will plan schedules around making sure they can attend services (live or virtual). Many really like having family Shabbats (live or on Zoom) and lighting candles, saying the brachot over the wine and challah. Some may say they wear a piece of jewelry that identifies them as a Jew – be it a Magen David or a Chai necklace, or a Sh’ma bracelet or ring with the Hebrew lettering. Some may say that a kippah is worn all the time or some of the time.

Obviously, there is no one answer for “how am I a Jew.” But there is one thing that all answers have in common. We are Jews not only because we were born Jewish, not only because we chose to “convert” to Judaism. We are Jews because we feel, we breathe, love our Jewish Identity. Who we are as Jews informs all that we do. We may be Canadian Jews, Israeli Jews, American Jews. We are good citizens who know that our Jewish values are the impetus for our actions, our lifestyle. We are not in any way perfect, but we have a guide (our Torah) that shows us the way. We obey the laws of our land, but we know that if the law of the land is immoral, as Jews, we must work to change the laws (think of Nazi Germany). If the actions of the community go against the value of any human life (think of systematic prejudice, homophobia, inequality based on colour, religion, gender), we must work to show that we are all made in God’s image. We are Jewish because somewhere in our very being is that flame of Judaism – the burning bush – or another name “pintele yid” – the small, teeny Jewish soul, that tells us who we are, how we should act, what we must do to repair the world. “Tikun Olam.”

Five new Solelniks just met our Beit Din. Five have just officially joined our Solel family. Five have said “I am Jewish. I am part of this mishpachah (family).” And we are blessed because they have chosen us.

Filed under: Educator's Message

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