As we prepare for High Holy Days this year, TBE has posed the question “What’s Your Why?” Why are you proud to be a Jew or part of a Jewish community? What does it mean to live a Jewish life? All of us have the power of choice, yet we choose to identify and live as Jews. So why are we proud to be Jewish?
The Oxford dictionary de nes “pride” as “a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.” What is it that delights you about being Jewish? Think about it for a
moment (or two).
Rabbi Joshua Samuels of Congregation Beth Israel posed similar questions in a recent High Holy Day address and o ered why he is proud to be Jewish. I share excerpts from his sermon with you here as it resonated with me—perhaps it will stir something similar in each of you. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________
As we enter the New Year and re ect on our relationships with our loved ones, our community and with G_d, perhaps we can also re ect on our relationship with our heritage. We can ask ourselves why it is a source of pride and meaning in our daily lives. This is a personal quest and I hope each of you will be able to come up with your own answers.
I am proud to be Jewish because we are taught to “never forget.” This can be onerous at times, but it keeps us grounded as we remember our roots and the road we’ve travelled. We bring the past with us and we call upon it to guide us in the future. Recalling events that shaped us provide Jews everywhere with a shared history and a compassion for others su ering around the globe.
I am proud to be Jewish because of the emphasis Judaism has on learning, on educating our youth and on asking questions. A line from the Shema, our central declaration of faith, is, V’shinantam l’vanecha “And you shall teach them (these words) to your children.”
I am proud to be Jewish because our tradition places greater emphasis on the present than it does on the future. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai taught: “If you have a sapling in your hand and someone tells you the Messiah has arrived, rst plant the sapling and then go out to welcome the Messiah.” 1 How we act today can have great consequences in the future. So it is better to focus on completing our tasks now than pray for what may or may not come to be.
I am proud to be Jewish because we are commanded to see every human being, b’tzelem elohim, as created in the Divine image. Rich, poor, black, white, trans, queer, straight, handicapped, Christian, Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, young, old, stranger, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, climate change denier – each person is equal and created with the spark of the Divine, no matter how dim it might seem.
I am proud to be Jewish because our tradition teaches us that Jews-by-choice are dearer to God than Jews-by-birth. Just because you were born into the family does not give you more rights or preferential treatment. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. Anyone who casts aspersions on the Jewish status of a Jew-by-choice is in violation of one of the most important laws in the Torah: not to oppress the convert.2 At the same time, seeking new members is not our goal. Should someone express a desire to join us, we take this commitment seriously and create a lengthy, but meaningful path to honor this journey.
I am proud to be Jewish because the mitzvot provide us a guide to live our lives in the public and private spheres. They give us the tools to make both important and everyday decisions. They remind us that every moment can be sacred, from waking in the morning to seeing a rainbow to enjoying an afternoon snack.
I am proud to be Jewish because Shabbat reminds us to be grateful and to slow down in an ever-rapidly-changing world. Emails and phone calls can wait. The strike of the match and the smell of freshly baked challah are our pause buttons in life. Shabbat truly is a “sanctuary in time.”
I am proud to be Jewish because G_d can be found in our sacred texts, in a blade of grass, in a conversation, or in the actions of a stranger. A Jew can have a meaningful Jewish life even if he does not believe that G_d plays any role in it.
I am proud to be Jewish because Judaism teaches simultaneously that we are each unique and special but also no greater than dust and ashes. Humility is a core Jewish value.
I am proud to be Jewish because while the Talmud teaches us kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh 3, “all of Israel are responsible for each other,” we are equally responsible to our neighbors and fellow citizens of the world.
I am proud to be Jewish because of the importance we place on community. We mourn together. We pray together. We study our texts together. We bring in the New Year together. We atone for our transgressions together. We are here for each other whenever and wherever needed.
I am proud to be Jewish because of the emphasis Judaism has on tzeddakah and tikkun olam. We are here for such a brief time, yet our tradition demands that we look out for the well- being of others and our environment even more so than our own needs. In times of deep poverty, we still do what we can to help those less fortunate.
I am proud to be Jewish because of the great value we place in humor and joy. It’s our sense of humor that sustained us as people for 3,000 years.
It’s fun to be in a Jewish community. We turn everything topsy-turvy on Purim. We dance around with the Torahs on Simchat Torah. We smile as our children watch Elijah “sip” from his wine glass. We celebrate all signi cant moments of life with blessings and community.
I am proud to be Jewish because we value a life of meaning over a life of ease. I am proud to be Jewish because we are commanded to be on the path towards holiness. Anyone can turn their lives around so long as they take the teshuva process seriously. __________________________________________________
Temple Beth El is looking for volunteers to blow shofar for individuals who
can’t get to High Holy Days services.
If you would like to be part of our Shofar Squad or know of someone we should visit to blow shofar for during the High Holy Days please call Carol Konuksever at 473-1770.
No one can tell you why you should be proud of your Judaism or being part of a Jewish community. Like Rabbi Samuels, I hope you will take time during the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe, to answer the question, “What’s Your Why?” as we celebrate the unfolding of yet another year in the existence
of our people. Consider it a gift of tradition to the next generation, one which they will inherit with the potential to span great distances in time and space.
On behalf of the O cers and Board of Directors, may 5780 bring health and peace to each of you and the people of Israel.
Martin A. Spokony President