I’ve spent too much of my life feeling like an inferior Jew. First of all, it’s hard enough to define one’s Judaism. When I was asked what type of Jew I was in the past, I’d answer “I was raised Reform,” or “I’m culturally Jewish.” Now I sometimes say I’m “Con-form” or “Refervative.” The only reason I won’t commit to Conservative is because I want to join a synagogue that acknowledges the importance of gender equity.
When I was a growing up, I played with Barbie dolls and Thomas the Tank engine play sets. My engineering school has a male-heavy environment, and I’ve faced a lot of disrespectful comments and gender discrimination during my engineering education and various internships in engineering roles. From “You must be my new secretary!” to words too offensive to post online, I face gender-based discrimination more often than anyone should have to. Sometimes I wonder how Orthodox women do it. I had jobs that required wearing pants, and I wonder what would happen if I were strictly following Halakha. Which brings me back to the topic of not being Jewish enough.
The following things make me feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of aspects of Judaism that a lot of young Jews share:
- Going to Jewish sleep away camps (Too old now).
- Going to synagogue every week (Not quite ready for this yet).
- Having weekly family Shabbat Dinners (Why not start? I may have to find a makeshift family of other rogue Jews).
- Going to Jewish day schools (Too old now).
- Reading the Torah start to finish (I’m reading Exodus at the moment).
- Belonging to a youth group (They have groups for young professionals)!
Maybe I’ve missed out on a lot of Jewish activities, but that doesn’t have any bearing on my future. I was raised in a primarily secular household, but I think I still picked up a lot of core Jewish values. Missing out in my childhood just makes me more motivated to participate as an adult.
Last summer, I lived in one of the least Jewish areas in the United States. When I went to the only Reform synagogue in reasonable driving distance, I met people who felt like family to me from day one. They hugged me when I told them I was coming to say Kaddish for my beloved grandfather; and when I told them I was 2000 miles from any family, they jumped at the opportunity to make me feel welcome.
It can be scary to reach out, especially in a new city, or if you feel like you don’t know much about Judaism. Through my recent exploration, I’ve realized:
- I know more about Judaism than I give myself credit for, and you probably do too.
- I’ll never feel like I am knowledgeable about Judaism if I don’t put in the effort to learn.
- There is always more to learn, regardless of how knowledgeable you think you are.
It’s that time of year again. It is in the air, Halloween. A few weeks ago, while visiting my parents, I asked each one of them what Halloween was like for them as children. Their answers were completely different than what I had conjured up in my own mind about each of their childhoods.
My mother was raised as a Conservative Jew. Her father was very observant and did not believe in putting any time and/or energy into holidays that were not strictly Jewish. My mother who grew up in New York City wasn’t allowed to trick-or-treat. She never dressed up, felt the excitement all day at school, or got to look forward to the chocolate bar before bed on Halloween night.
My father was raised as a Reform Jew and was able to partake in trick-or treating. I always imagine his early years as Leave it to Beaver. He had an older brother, a working father, and a mother who seemed to be able to fix any problem in 22 minutes or less. His Halloween night was spent in costume going door to door collecting money for Unicef. Again, no chocolate bar before hitting the pillow for the night. But, what a concept; spending an evening with friends doing something for someone else. How many of us really, truly do that?
I grew up waiting for the one night of the year to collect as much candy as possible. My brother and I would compete to see who could get more. It is not easy to admit, but at times I’m still like this. Putting my needs, even if they are just a hankering for a good old-fashioned chocolate bar before someone else’s.
If for just a few minutes a day we were to all do something kind for someone else I believe this world would be a much happier, kinder and gentler place. Think about this next time you go on a date. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes for just a few moments. If you feel nervous imagine how the other person must feel. It takes a lot of effort to date and to put oneself out there. It makes us vulnerable which can be a scary place to be. Be kind with your dates. Honesty, integrity and helping someone feel more at ease are all signs of great character. Make these attributes part of who you are and treat people in a manner that you would like to be treated. In essence, collect for Unicef on Halloween night, instead of going out there for as much candy as you can get your hands on. You still get the pleasure of trick-or-treating without gaining an ounce, and you did something good for someone else. I imagine if we all took the time to do this all of our dates would have much happier endings.
Dear Gems from Jen,
I am Conservative both in my Jewish faith and my politics. Why is it that 90% of Jewish women are liberal or left wing? These women will not even SPEAK to a Conservative man. I find it hard to believe that being Conservative makes me a pariah. What’s the deal?
My first question to you is, who gave you these percentages? I’m not so sure you are looking at all of the possibilities. Are you willing to give a woman who is not as conservative as you in both faith and politics are fair chance? Many relationships have, and do work when one partner holds a different belief system than the other.
I believe it opens up the possibility of healthy debates and learning to become more tolerant of other people’s belief systems. I once dated a guy who was much more religious than I, and we spent a great deal of time learning to listen to each other and focusing on what we did have in common.
I do understand that beliefs create passion and can at times cause disagreements, if not full-blown arguments, but I’d much rather date someone that I can have an intelligent debate with, rather than dating someone who shares everything I believe. Where’s the adventure in that?
There are many women, by the way, that are both Conservative in their politics and faith. You are by no means a pariah. Don’t let what you believe to be fact become ingrained in your thought process. Just because you believe that 90% of Jewish women are liberal and would never date a guy who is Conservative does not make it true.
I have a very dear friend who was raised in a Conservative home. She ended up marrying a Reform Jew and they have made it work. She continues to attend her Conservative synagogue and the two of them have made a home together that encompasses both of their belief systems. The moral of the story is they respect one another and allow each other to be themselves.
Gems from Jen