Choosing to Be a Jew
Mi ha’ish hehafetz chaim? Ohayve yomim v’lirot tov.
Notzer lishonecha may’ra usifotechamidaber mirma.
Sur may’ra va’asey tov bakesh shalom v’radehu.
Who is the person who desires life?
He loves every day and sees the positive. He trims negativity and dissembling from his speech (literally, trims it from his tongue and lips).
Turn from wrong and instead do right, beseech peace and pursue it.
Tehilim (Psalms) 34:13-14
Ei Yihudi,Yihudi! Ei Armai, Armai! / If you are a Jew, be a Jew!
If you are an Aramaean, be an Aramaean!
(Celebrate who you are!)
Talmud Yerushalmi, Sanhedrin
Make a promise take a vow
And trust your feelings it’s easy now
Understand the voice within
And feel the changes already beginning
Oh won’t you tell me again
Can you feel it
Won’t you tell me again Tonight “The Voice,” Justin Hayword (from the Moody Blues album Long Distance Voyager)
I have been blessed with a meaningful life.
In my role as rabbi, I am privileged and trusted to be with people for their greatest moments of joy and in their darkest hours. Through creatively assessing our Jewish tradition, I can provide comfort during times of illness and death and other times of loss. I can generate and enhance ecstatic moments of bliss in weddings, britim, baby namings, Bar and Bat Mitzvah, and other celebratory life cycle events. I can implant a love of Judaism in young people as I educate them in our Hebrew School.
I am given the opportunity to make the way Jews encounter their religion in worship services and other events fun, entertaining, enlightening, instructive, relevant, and meaningful. I can contribute insight, comprehension, and deep understanding to the texts that our people hold to be of the greatest sacred importance.
Recently, I had the opportunity to act in one of the most meaningful aspects of my role as rabbi, something that to me personally is a tremendous z’chut (merit or privilege): to serve as the guide to a young woman whom I had over the past year educated to enter the Jewish people as a georet (convert). She entered the mikvah with a Hispanic name. She emerged with now also a Hebrew name and full membership in a people she had long considered to be her own. She cried, tears flowed from my eyes as I blessed her, and
the whole Beit Din joyously sang to her.
Rivka told me how her eyes welled up as she guided her in her
immersion. What an incredibly meaningful day with a wonderful young woman who appreciates and treasures her Jewish identity.
In a free society we cherish the concept of choice. We certainly, as the quote from Tehilim above informs us, have the opportunity to make meaningful choices every moment of our lives. Some people call a convert a “Jew by choice.” I have never liked that “politically correct” label and don’t find it to be true.
My experience with converts, and I have had the honor and privilege to have served as the guide to many people entering Klal Yisrael, is that for these people it wasn’t a choice. What I have observed is that these individuals seem to share a feeling that they really didn’t choose; instead, they were driven and compelled to something because in truth they always really were Jews. They just needed to heed their inner voice and find their way home.
If you were born Jewish you are actually the “Jew by choice” because very often those born into a Jewish family take their Jewishness for granted. Too often Jews just shlep through their Judaism and overlook and under appreciate the wonderful opportunities for meaningful and spiritual enjoyment it provides.
Take for example Shabbat. On Friday night when a Jew eats, it’s more than an opportunity to enjoy a tasty meal. The rituals of the table that precede the enjoyment of the food create a unique joyous and spiritual experience when encountered with an open attitude to connect with that moment. Sure we are all hungry and want to eat. However, if our taste buds and tummies can just wait a few minutes, they will be rewarded with lovely song, prayer, and ritual that turn a Friday night tasty repast into a delightful and
uniquely Jewish cultural and religious event that even makes the food more intensely scrumptious.
Friday night is one special example of how you can choose to enjoy being Jewish. We Jews are so fortunate that there are so many opportunities that can be found and experienced in our congregational life.
This is my January message. In the culture we share with all other Americans, there is the custom of making “New Year resolutions.” As we enter this new solar year of 2014, let’s resolve to joyfully embrace our Jewishness and exult in it. We should all listen to our inner voice that calls to us, beseeching us to actualize who we are. Our inner voices are calling to us saying “take joy in being a Jew!”