The past few years I’ve given a lecture to foreign (non-Jewish) visitors on “Basic Jewish Terminology”. They’re fascinated by how diverse we are as a religion and a culture. Even in the Holy Land we are like a collection of unconnected tribes struggling to find a common denominator.
We argue about everything under the sun, from social issues and synagogue traditions to defining the best Kashrut organization in the country and the right balance between religion and democracy. Nevertheless we share something in common.
Do Jews Have In Common?
What then do Jews have in common that make us distinctly Jewish? Is it the food we eat? Can’t be. Every Jewish community has its culinary traditions. European Jewish food includes Kugel, Gefilte Fish and Borscht. The Eastern Jew would likely prefer Pita, Hummus and Bourekas. The American Jew eats Bagels & Lox at the Sunday morning breakfast in Shul and maybe can’t fathom the strange Israeli snacks.
Is it our nationality? Definitely not. Jews carry passports from nearly 193 countries and some have two nationalities with passports to match. Admittedly there are a few million with Israeli citizenship, but there are many Arabs with Israeli passports too…
Is it our clothes? Jews across the globe wear a huge range of styles. Not only those who adapt to the local fashions, but even the very religious and traditional. There’s nothing similar between the garments of a Yemenite from Sana’a and apparel of Hasidim from Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Is it our religion? That should be a no-brainer, but unfortunately it isn’t. There are far more non-religious Jews in the world than those who keep the traditions, yet any Jew irrespective of his or her level of observance is my brother & sister.
The Jewish People are a Family
I liked the description that Tracey Rich gives in his incredibly “rich” website on Judaism – JewFAQ – “The Jewish People are a Family“.
Like a family, we don’t always agree with each other. We often argue and criticize each other. We hold each other to the very highest standards, knowing that the shortcomings of any member of the family will be held against all of us. But when someone outside of the family unfairly criticizes a family member or the family as a whole, we are quick to join together in opposition to that unfair criticism.
With that (not so) simple thought in mind, have a Good Shabbos !