Who's a Jew: Part I

This posting begins a series of pieces called “Who’s a Jew.” These essays are not pretenders to halachic discussions nor are they an invitation to debate the relative worth of the various boxes into which individuals and groups try to stuff Yiddishkeit. Rather, these pieces of writing are meant to be reflections, contemplations, inspirations and the like, for the many faceted ways in which Judaism is reflected in each of us. It’s important to validate that Jews come in lots of flavors.
As you read these essays, consider that I have been a cultural Jew and a Torah Jew, have lived in America and in Israel, was a child, a single, a spouse and a mother (and hopes, at the right time, to be a grandmother). I was an academic and a homemaker, a professional writer and a ceramics hobbyist. I’ve had money to burn and have lived from paycheck to paycheck. I’ve been alone and been befriended by many people. Once, I worked as a model. Other times, I was frumpy. I’ve eaten a vegan diet, a protein-rich diet and now stick to glatt kosher. I’ve spent energy on meditation and energy on publicizing Hashem’s miracles. In every incarnation, I remained a Jew.
Consider, as a forspice, an appetizer, the words of Lenny Solomon, as sung on his album Tnu Lanu Siman, Give us a Sign, in his work “Ani Yehudi,” I am a Jew,”
I am not Ashkenazi, Sefaradi, Taimani or Tzarfati
I am not Morrocan, American, or Russian
Chorus: I am a Jew
When they ask me what am I (I will say)
I am not religious or secular, left wing or right wing,
Not an optimist nor a pessimist, naive,
Chorus: I am a Jew
I cranked up the stereo as I listened to Udi Davidi’s Coming Back to You. His Hebrew songs of faith and of solidarity thumped my car as I took a route home which would intentionally bring me through a portion of Jerusalem’s “Black Belt,” through the city’s neighborhood of Geula, of Ezrat Torah, past the edge of Sanhedriya and into Ramot.
I usually save Davidi’s music for nightfall since I don’t trust myself to be productive after hearing to his reliably moving compositions. Likewise, I usually drive on Begin Highway; that path’s more direct than the circuitous one I drove. Yet, at that moment, I desperately needed to feel as though I were intimately part of the klal. Too much had happened for me to chance a different exposure.
It was not so much the ruse with which an Anglo customer had tricked a young Israeli waitress, in the coffee shop in which both she and I had sat, or the chutzpa of the Jerusalem driver who had cut me off, first from the right, and then, immediately thereafter, from the left, while I was threading my way through the city, nor was it the praise of HaKadosh Baruch Hu, as sung by shepherd/folk singer Davidi that frenzied me. It wasn’t, either, the awareness that it had been much too long since certain yeshiva bucharim, whose school sits on part of my homebound path, and whose faces, Dvrai Torah and songs had been missing, for far too long, from my family’s table, that turned my emotions into mush.
It wasn’t even the realization, the biting reminder, made through the song my ulpan teacher recommended, “Hamasa Le’eretz Yisrael,” “Journey to Israel,” about the loss of life of more than 4,000 Jews who were part of the human caravan making its way by foot, across the Nubian Desert, from Ethiopia, to bring holy neshemot to this holy land, bandits, murder, rape, lack of rainfall as well as absence of oases, notwithstanding, that churned my insides. Rather, while those items each evoked many literal tears, it was coming of age-inspired catharsis from which I suffered.
Recently, I turned 50. Computer Cowboy also became 50. B’ayin tov on both our counts. Plus, my beloved spouse shifted from a long held job to a new, much desired position. What’s more, Missy Oldest has been kicking in and out of the shidduch parsha; she can’t decide if she is ready or not to get married. Older Dude has been interviewing hesder yeshivot for next year, for when he officially becomes part of the IDF. Missy Youngest has begun taking a college class. Most pronouncedly, all the same, my baby, Younger Dude, B’ezrat Hashem, has been counting down days. With Hashem’s grace, my baby will be Bar Mitzva by the time this essay posts.
Loving your family means nurturing them and then releasing them, allowing them, moreso encouraging them, to discover the bumps and wonders of life through their own experience-influenced filters. In other words, my goings on impact, but do not define those persons I love best. Maybe, on a partially cloudy day, my goings on might define me. Said simply, I am more and less than a wife, more and less than a mother, more and less than the sum of my own life’s adventures. I change. The people around me change. The lone variable that remains constant is that I was, I am, and I will always be a Jew.
Beyond the epistemic stricture of having been born of a Jewish mother, I am a feeling individual with allegiance to The Boss and to the Klal. My intrinsic worth is not defined by titles, by prizes or by other socially bestowed acknowledgements of my efforts, although receiving honors or monies often brings to me immediate and long term benefits. My value as a being is not determined by my skin color, by my height or weight or even by the sort of glasses I wear, despite the fact that I don’t mind feeling pretty. If, has v’shalom, all forms of external validation directed toward me suddenly ceased, I would still retain my fundamental self.
When my husband shifts, when my kids develop, when we moved home to Israel and when any other significant change occurs or occurred, I remained me. I remain a Jewish.
So, I cry at night and laugh over a “regular” sunrise.” Each face on my bus is precious. Each grain blown up in a sandstorm, not to mention each rain drop that falls subsequently, gets treasured.
This reality is fleeting. My consciousness of the temporary status of life has become profound. Join me, during these next few weeks, in exploring that which will transverse this world into the next one; join me in exploring Jewishness.
B’ezrat Hashem, Part II of “Who’s a Jew,” “So Much Clap Trap,” will deconstruct some intrapersonal myths, Part III, “Common Misperceptions,” will explore folks’ wasteful pursuit of external affirmations. Part IV, “Jeans” will address the hurts Jews inflict upon each other. Part V, “Media Savvy: the Fires of Rhetoric” will take apart some of the ways in which Jewish identity impacts the media and some of the ways in which media frameworks impact Jewish identity. Part VI, “Blaring among the Mustards,” will explore the relationship of Jewishness to Otherness, especially in this era of the global village. Part VII, “Overview” will look at some unrequited longings.