It caught my eye while scanning the obituaries in the LA Times: Moishe Rosen, Founder of Jews for Jesus, passed away. Right away, my Jewish genes kicked into
overdrive. On cue, the inner
dialogue begins: “Jews for Jesus”, my inner rabbi scorned…”not real Jews,
nothing more than a cult, something should be done…don’t even associate them
with real Jews…” It seems oxymoronic – Jews for Jesus. Jews still peer out our
windows with hope, still search for the savior among the homeless on the
corner, still practice Tikkun Olam and plant our gardens in the anticipation of
the messiah. Jews for Jesus
believe that Jesus was the messiah and now needs to come again. Pick one! Are you Jews or are you for
Jesus? You can’t have it all. And
so the ‘traitor’ box next to his name is checked and I flip the page, secure in
my genetic heritage and my right to claim myself as a Jew.
But he lingers, roaming around, past the values of faith and mezuzahs marking the corners of my mind.
What makes someone Jewish? What are the minimum requirements? What are
the course prerequisites for the PhD in Jewish mannerisms? What constitutes a Jewish soul?
I know that rabbinic law determines a Jew by the religion of your mother. So is it really so
simple? If a mother was born Jewish, never prayed or welcomed in shabbos or
braided challah, is her child automatically Jewish? For a religion that
dissects every word in the Torah, prints tomes analyzing single sentences, and
mandates 100 blessings a day, is it possible that it’s simply genetic roulette
to gain admittance into the club? This Moishe Rosen, the founder of Jews for
Jesus, was raised in an Orthodox family and married a Jewish woman. While I vehemently disagree with his
methods, he did spend his life immersed in certain Jewish rituals and the
practice of faith. So what makes me think I'm a better Jew than he was? I don’t
go to shul most weeks. I light shabbos candles when I remember. I store my
siddur in a bedside drawer, gathering guilt as I notice it without cracking the
And yet, I am a Jew. I stand proudly, secure in this heritage, this identity that I carry,
this set of beliefs that I subscribe to.
My Judaism is a part of me whether I kiss the mezuzah or rush past
it. I am more apt to march in a
rally for Israel than I am for America, even though I’ve never been to the Promised
Land. I keep my anti-Semitism meter
turned to extreme, ready to take offense at the whiff of discrimination. I sprinkle my vocabulary with Oys and
mazel tovs, keeping gefilte fish and brisket on ready alert. I find a local shul to observe Yom Kippur
and fly home for Seder. But
there’s a bigger question that I avoid, keeping myself busy with books,
cleaning, walking the dog, writing – distractions to remind me not to look too
closely at my Jewish failings.
It’s the question of faith. The hypocrisy of picking and choosing, selecting the appealing nuggets of Judaism to incorporate while
shoving aside the rest of the religion.
It’s my religious ADD, where I get caught up in tradition and customs,
seeing the beauty and meaning that can be infused in daily activities, but am
unwilling to stretch myself to sustain lasting lifestyle changes. I smack into my inconsistencies as I
long for a solid belief in a G-d that manages my life better than I do, but yet
continue to live a secular life absent of the Jewish markings I am commanded to
follow. I yearn for faith, for
learning, for meaning in the details but don’t want to be inconvenienced by the
rest of the 613 commandments. So
am I a real Jew? Is the Hassidic neighbor ranked higher than the reform father?
Is merit measured merely by number of commandments followed, number of
blessings performed every day? If I go to shul every week, is that enough? Does
it count if I listen to torah lectures on my iPod? Do I get extra points for murmuring
the Shema at the sound of my alarm clock? What earns me the Jewish gold star?
And then I remember that this beautiful religion, this smorgasbord of customs, this symphony of blessings isn’t a race.yes""> This business of faith is a journey for me as I attempt to
locate what I'm missing and which door I can unlock to make room in my life. I’ve belonged to reform Temples,
Conservative synagogues, and Orthodox shuls.yes""> I’ve studied with rabbis, debated with students, jotted
notes from professors. Judaism
values learning as do I, and so I learn how to find the Judaism within, the
Judaism that deepens my faith, that sends me home with leftovers of meaning for
the next day.
I give up trying to define if I'm a ‘good enough’ Jew, if I qualify, if I'm allowed to claim this identity. I
give up comparing my observance with hers, my righteousness with his. I remember my obligation not to be the
best compared to you, but rather to be the best compared to my highest
self. I remember that faith is a
personal matter, and while there are abundant opinions and rabbinic
prerequisites and tractates galore, belief in something greater than myself
can’t be forced or rushed. Faith
can’t be quantified or ranked. Faith can only be lived.
So I stop defending my lack of observance and cultivating guilt over broken mitzvahs. For
today, it’s enough to stay on the path, to keep learning, keep wondering, keep
searching for meaning. And in the
same breath, I know I could do better.
I can take the minute to light my shabbos candles. I brush off my dusty siddur and place
it on the nightstand instead of tucked away in the drawer. Maybe it will stay closed, still
overlooked in favor of new novels with more exciting plots. But maybe it’s cover will remind me
that if I desire a faith that withstands with wind, I must take action, I must
be willing to reach out my hand.
As for Moishe Rosen, founder of Jews for Jesus…let’s not speak ill of the dead. I’ll try to
leave the judgments up to the all-knowing One, and keep my eyes focused on my
own choices. So I put away my Judaism
checklist and failing report cards, and decide that as long as I still seek a
seat in this religion, I have earned the right to say I'm a Jew. Not a good
Jew. Not confined by sect, shul, movement, or philosophy. Not a fallen Jew or a ‘Top Ten’ Jew. Regardless
of merit or genetics or level of kashrus observance, I am a Jew. It’s the box next to my name I check
first. In a complicated world with
a complicated brain, I opt for clarity. I am simply Jewish.