Sunday, July 27, 2008

Jewish Community

First and foremost it is necessary to understand that to a lot of people, Jews that is, who know my ancestry I would not be considered Jewish. Jewish “blood” is passed down through the mother and my mother was not born a Jew. She converted when I was 8, so when I was born I was not born a Jew. However, within the more liberal Jewish communities I am considered a Jew (reconstructionist, reform). And within more conservative sects I have a lot of legitimacy as a Jew (conservative is also a sect of Judaism). I attended Jewish day school for 5 years (4th-8th) where I received an extensive education in culture, language, tradition and history, although all from a conservative perspective. I had a Bat Mitzvah when I was 12 (traditional age for a female). And prior to my Bat Mitzvah I had a half conversion ceremony. I attended a Jewish camp. I also went to Israel in spring 2007 on an advocacy trip. So while my bloodline does not dictate so my experiences growing up give me a lot of legitimacy as a Jew and the ability to “pass” as such within Jewish a Jewish context.
Passing as a conservative Jew is a strange thing because while I can do it with ease I disagree with so many of the values that are represented within conservative Jewish contexts. I remember when I was doing a project and I interviewed an aging Jewish man. Hearing my name (Hannah, a “nice Jewish name”), put him at ease with me and he started to reveal things that when confronted with someone else he likely would have kept to himself. Jewish culture while it says that you must be nice to the stranger (other, outsider) it also makes it very clear that they are not part of our community. It is that type of inclusivity that while I think has contributed to the sustainability of the Jewish religion is also troubling to say the least. Last week I was reminded of that incident when one of the people at the Shabbat dinner I attended started talking about interfaith marriages and the “silent holocaust”. Because she was comfortable at the table of people she saw as the same as her she revealed this detail. However, sitting at that table was my mother, a non-blood jew, and me, the product of an interfaith marriage. And this is not the first time that I have encountered something like this.
On my trip to Israel in the spring of 2007 we sat down at one point to discuss some of the issues we encountered as “jews in a non jewish world”. One of the issues we discussed was interfaith marriage. So here I was in a group of youth, people who should not be limiting their romantic attachments, and/or thinking about marriage yet and all of them were vehemently opposed to interfaith marriage. As the daughter of a mixed marriage and someone who was dating a gentile at that point hearing these feeling were hard for me to deal with. What is difficult for me now is how do I negotiate my tie to Judaism? For me the religion has always been a base even though my religious affiliations have changed a lot over the years. In addition, it has a community that provides my brother (who has autism) with the support that he needs; in the form of community, open arms and even programming. So as I sit at a table with jews who are saying things that go against my values, but who are people that we need the connection to for the sake of my brother, I have to decide how to react, and in the end I usually decide to keep my mouth shut, after all it is important that my parents and brother find the community they need. However the elitist mindset of most of these people is hard to digest.

“As jews we believe that everyone in our community is just like us, as jews we believe that we are the chosen people and that we are better than everyone else. As jews we think that issues of ethnicity, sexuality, gender, race, class, spirituality, etc are problems for the gentiles, we believe that we are beyond that…”

For someone who accepts this mindset or lives in a very classic jewish community it is easy to live this lifestyle, however as someone who lives on the edge of many of the issues the jewish community ignores, it is hard to digest.

Now this is not to say that all jews/communities are like this. My synogogue (reconstructionist, the hippies of the jews) has always been a welcoming community that seems not to ignore the issues so many others ignore. However, I often feel like the more conservative influences of my childhood overpowered the welcoming atmosphere of my synagogue. And has left me with a distaste for the conservative jewish community.

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