Let’s imagine the following situation…

Once upon a time, while I was in a non-kosher restaurant trying to find something one could classify as parve or a fish with scales and fins, I rise my eyes, distracting myself with the happy environment around me and trying to imagine if anyone around me would be able to understand my kosher restrictions, and to my surprise, I find a person who would! There was, on the other side of the restaurant, a Jew! Jews that were born in Israel and never had the opportunity to travel abroad can’t simply imagine how happy a Jew is when he or she finds another Jew in a place where Jews are a minority in the society. They simply can’t imagine.

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There I was, looking at the other Jew in the restaurant, praying so that person would also recognize me, maybe he would even say “Shalom” to me. I felt so comforted to know that I wasn’t the only one about to eat fish and rice, while drinking coke because there was no other thing I could eat there. So, when the waiter brought my order, I was the only one on the table eating fish/rice/coke while my entire family was eating steak and other non-kosher food, but I was happy, I was eating kosher and I would not be the only one in that restaurant following an ancient Jewish religious practice.

Yeah… But, I was wrong, not about being happy because I was following kashrut laws, but because I thought I wouldn’t be alone while doing so. The other Jew ordered prawn and other kinds of non-kosher seafood.

Don’t get me wrong. I know the other Jew was born Jew, which is different than being a (soon) to be Jew by choice, but even you have to admit that it is hard to explain to your non-Jewish family why the other Jew, who calls himself “orthodox” is not following kashrut laws while you, the one who is converting through “conservative” Judaism, one of the “liberal” streams of Judaism, is following kashrut laws.

There certain things about the Jewish world that my non-Jewish family will never understand, including different levels of kashrut observance or the different status that converts – or, in my case, no status because I’m doing a conservative conversion – and born-jews have inside of my orthodox community.


This experience made me reflect about three things.

First, I must confess I feel rather sad when I see a Jew, specially the ones that declare themselves “orthodox” (but use such word more like an official title to display than as a characterization of one’s Jewish lifestyle), eating non-kosher food in non-kosher restaurants, dressing according to the rules of tzniut (modesty) inside of the shul and after the schacharit on shabbas morning go to the movie with a guy wearing a short dress with an beautiful (and huge) dress neckline or criticizing Jews from non-orthodox synagogue because of their use of electricity on shabbas while you – so called orthodox – drive to the shul. I admire orthodox Judaism, even if I disagree with some of the ideas that exist inside orthodox Jewish circles and institutions, however I feel upset when I see anyone using the word “orthodox” as title without actually living an orthodox, not even a modern orthodox, life style.

Second, every Jew that lives in a liberal democracy and in a society with low levels of antisemitism is not forced to be a Jew, to practice Judaism or observe Jewish law if he or she doesn’t want, even if Halacha officially consider a person who was born of a Jewish mother as a Jew regardless of the fact such person is religious or not. So, in one way or another, we are all Jews by choice. The fact I was trying to follow kashrut laws on that day doesn’t mean I’m a better Jew than the one who wasn’t or that he is superior to me because he was born Jew while I’m a Jew by choice, nor that he was acting correctly when eating non-kosher food just because he was born Jew. It just means that I choose to practice such laws and he didn’t, because we all have a choice.

Third, freedom offered by the liberal democracy doesn’t mean that I have to choose between the ghetto and the full assimilation. Sometimes, in the diaspora, a Jew feels himself (or herself) divided between be a Jew, preserve one’s Jewish identity and have professional success or integrate oneself in the society. It is a hard choice, at least that is how many jews not just today, but during many years have perceived such dilemma.

Some choose to integrate themselves, they choose to be part of the non-Jewish world around them, assimilating and losing their identity. They eat, dress, don’t keep/remember shabbas, bottom line, the forget how to be Jewish. While other Jews choose not to integrate. They see everyone around them losing their Judaism, they decide to live a part from the modern non-Jewish around, in order to make it possible they create a ghetto, both physical and psychological. They become strongly averse to any change in the traditional way of life of Judaism, they become averse to the ideas and set of values the non-Jewish society around them develops.

Unfortunately, living in such ghetto was not always was a choice. The division between integration in the non-Jewish society of the diaspora and preservation of one’s Jewish identity still can be felt, however many Jews perceive such division as full assimilation or ghetto, but there is something in between. The modern state and the liberal democracy model that exists in many countries today in all over the diaspora allows a observant/religious Jew to keep his or hers Jewish identity while enjoying the rights and duties of a life in the non-Jewish surroundings he or she lives.

OK. I recognize that different countries have different cultures even if you can classify such country as a liberal democracy, that being said, I believe that there are certain countries, such as USA, Israel or England, where it is easy to keep one’s Jewish identity and integrate (without assimilating) oneself in the non-Jewish society.

Therefore, a Jew doesn’t need to stop eating kosher or stop going to the shul on shabbas because of the freedom of the life outside the ghetto or because one need to make money. I strongly believe that, as a Jew, one can enjoy the freedom of the liberal democracy to preserve one’s Jewish identity while experience the ideas and opportunities of the world outside the Jewish community. For instance, I was at the non-kosher restaurant with my non-Jewish family, debating about Brazilian politics, dressing in a modest way, after my morning prayers and trying to find something to eat that could fit into my kosher diet without keeping a high level of kosher dietary observance that would require kosher utensils. Summarizing, I was preserving my Jewish identity, trying to practice and live a Jewish life, outside of the walls of the ghetto while enjoying the freedom of western world liberal democracy.
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