Why be Jewish?

“Why Be Jewish?” With Purim having just passed by, that was definitely one of our top selling points. I dressed up in costume, was completely carefree for an evening, and took shots with my rabbi. Uh…score! We also have Chanukkah, and since everybody loves presents and fried food, who wouldn’t want to be Jewish? However, for an outsider looking to join a new religion (even with our reckless abandon for one night a year and eight nights of presents), well… joining our group isn’t an easy sell.

We’ve got the stereotypical Jewish mothers breathing down our necks, the grandparents lecturing us about the war and asking when we’re going to be a doctor (and when you actually become a doctor, they get pissed you’re not a surgeon)…the Jewish guilt, the 613 commandments to follow, the whole “no bacon cheeseburger” thing, and of course, all the fun dealing with Anti-Semites.

“But Adam, what about the food you’re always talking about? You guys are known for delicious meals and gluttony!”

That’s right, I forgot about that! We sure do have some delicious treats. You can take part in our culinary delights as well…so long as you’re on board with not eating multiple times a year for entire days at a time to commemorate numerous landmark events (most of which revolve around the destruction of our Holy Temples).

“But Adam, I hear you celebrate the Jewish New Year! That sounds awfully enticing!”

Indeed, confused friend seeking religion, we have a ball on Rosh Hashanah! All of my closest friends, relatives and colleagues exuberantly await the day we get to sit in a synagogue for countless hours repenting for our sins and apologizing to one another.

“Alright, I’m a little confused, what’s the appeal exactly?”

Well, Jewish is something we have a set of religious beliefs and practices, and many consider us a “people,” or “tribe.” We’re spread out across the globe as a result of millennia of persecution and enslavement, so categorizing us geographically isn’t the easiest thing to do nowadays.

However, being Jewish is something many can feel within them. There’s a sense of belonging when you step into a room of “your people.” When a Jew’s in Israel, the one place where we’re a majority, there’s a sense of safety, security, and solace. Walking down the streets in Jerusalem in the middle of the night somehow feels… comfortable. In the event of a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, you can throw the psychological phenomenon of the “bystander effect” aside and know that those surrounding you will jump in to protect your life.

The Jewish people have a common thread seemingly weaved within our DNA. The beautiful thing is that our thread creates no single design; it may show up in a yarmulka wearing Rabbi, a Hollywood actress, or an NBA star. The one thing that our thread shares is it’s durability and concrete sense of identity. We are an everlasting people who know a thing or two about facing adversity, and our rich, shared history strengthens our thread, further solidifying the power of being a Jew.

With Passover coming up, we’re provided yet another opportunity to commemorate the liberation of our people from a time of slavery. These frequent commemorations, requisite fast days, and “downsides” are what keep us together and help us grow. Every year, we retain the memories of those who came before us by celebrating their victories and ability to overcome attempted annihilations of our people. Being “Jewish” is truly an indescribable feeling. From the outsiders prospective, we may seemingly have a disadvantageous set of hurdles that come with being a Jew, but in reality, these speed bumps help us slow down, countless times throughout the year, to remember exactly who we are.

Adam Chester lives in Los Angeles with his wife Kelly and is in graduate school working towards his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Contact the author: Adamzchester@gmail.com.

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