A Review of Why Be Jewish?

by Ian Sandler Whybejewish

As the CEO of a large Jewish organisation, I often wonder, in the face of adversity what being Jewish in a modern, multicultural country entails, or whether members of our community have given up?  When asked and rather than identify themselves as being Jewish, do they say they have no religion at all?  Sometimes, at face value, being Jewish seems to have more negatives than positives.

For those of us whose Jewish identity is defined by our love and allegiance to Israel, the weekly barrage of criticism can be extremely upsetting and seem like a personal attack. Many of our youth feel they are ‘Jewed out’ following prolonged time ‘served’ in Jewish day schools and many of the young adults believe that their dating/marriage pool is severely limited!

Being Jewish seems hard and it’s easy to see why some consciously or unconsciously try to unburden themselves of the label of being Jewish in favour of an unfettered existence within general Sydney society.

So why be Jewish?  As much as we may try to fight it, deny it or insist that it really makes no difference in this day and age, being Jewish makes up an important part of who we are as individuals, and how we are perceived by those who are not.

Doron Kornbluth, author of Raising Kids to Love Being Jewish identifies that many Jews today feel no significant difference to their non Jewish counterparts and rightly so.  We live a secular life – we play the same sports, shop in the same places, enjoy the same television shows and movies and have the same political discussions over the adeptness of our government. However, despite these similarities, despite lack of conscious recognition, many Jews are aware of a connection to Judaism in some form.  Furthermore, Kornbluth highlights that feeling Jewish is something that changes according to life stages and the cycle of life events one experiences. In our community, many of us send our children to Jewish schools in order to maintain that connection yet many of our children think nothing of reducing their communal involvement once school is over and often they don’t reinvolve themselves in their twenties or thirties.  However, later in life, when faced with decisions as to whether to give their children a naming ceremony or bris, to have a bar or bat mitzvah and to celebrate the festivals, people often re-establish a connection which suggests that their link to Jewish life never left them in the first place.

There are also many unique qualities integral to our Jewish heritage that we may not recognise as being evident due to a narrow definition of what is ‘being Jewish’.  The National Jewish Survey (Gen 08) conducted jointly by the JCA and Monash University identified that there were many ways to be Jewish – from those who like to stay home on a Friday night making it a family night to those who listen to music by the latestIsraeli hip hop artists.

Regardless of where people place themselves on a scale of ‘being Jewish’, the JCA and its 21 member organisations recognise the need for a Jewish response to issues such as aged care, education, political and physical security and community care.  And whilst the individual call may not be there today, it is guaranteed that a person will seek Jewish support at some point in their lives.  That’s why we operate today, plan for tomorrow, to make sure our community is looked after forever.

Let’s celebrate who we are and embrace our community always.

This review first appeared on JCA Today.

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