Living in the Minority

by Haley Plotnik under Judaism

The other day, I met someone who had never met a Jew before. I would have been happy to tell them more about Judaism, but I didn’t get the sense that they were interested. Finally, they said, “You know what would make this night even more fun? If every time you said something obnoxiously Jewish, I took a shot.”

I thought about speaking with Yiddish accent words all night, but then I figured it wouldn’t be of any help. Sometimes people are ignorant. I know that this is not the first or last time I will be targeted for being “obnoxiously Jewish.” I didn’t even think I used that many Jew-isms looking back on it. I maybe said an “oy vey” or the like.

I go to a college that is very Jew-friendly. We are one of the largest minority groups on campus. I sometimes forget that when I leave the safe haven of my college that it may be in my best interests to tone it down. I spent my entire childhood toning it down though. I would like to live in a world where I won’t be called out for an “oy” here or a “gevalt” there.


Ease of Life

by Aaron under JBloggers,Judaism

M’shana makom, m’shana mazel — this is the phrase people kept repeating to me as I decided between Dallas and New York. The phrase means change your place and change your fortunes. I was doing fine in Dallas, but I can tell you New York is a different world entirely, and I love it. There are more Jews to date here, more things to do on Shabbat (the Great Lawn in Central Park and touring the Upper West Side’s Kiddushes with my roommate have become my favorite activities each week), and best of all, more places to enjoy Kosher dining.

Jewish life in New York, to put it simply, is really easy. I tell my company it’s Shabbat on Friday nights and I get to be out in time every week. People on my block in Harlem know how to properly get a mezuzah affixed on a doorway. There’s a kosher section in my grocery store in an area where there are few Jews. And even in this (Jewishly) remote area of town (The middle of 150th street, where the nearest synagogue is a 30-minute walk), even the far walks of one hour to synagogues with numerous young people is closer than the two or so hours it would take me to walk to any shul in Dallas from my house (not to mention how easy it is to walk here).

It makes me wonder though — is life more meaningful when it’s difficult? Wasn’t there more meaning to the fact that in Dallas I was still attempting to keep Kosher, I still kept Shabbat every week (although by staying at different homes every week), and I still only dated Jewish despite a small dating pool? Life was definitely not tough, luckily, but there were some strange challenges. People thought I was nuts when I told them I dated long-distance to have a bigger dating pool, and the first time I told a group I’d not be able to meet during Shabbat got some weird reactions. Did my continued efforts despite people’s lack of understanding mean anything more came out of it?

In some ways, yes. I gained a great deal of confidence by standing up for my decisions that a lot of people didn’t understand, and my efforts in keeping Kosher, keeping Shabbat, and dating Jewish, no matter what it took, led me to great places that have made living in New York more exciting and meaningful than if I’d just waited to do those things here. But to call New York “easy” is still relative — the truth is, those things are still difficult here. Sure, there are 2 million Jews, but 10 million people overall here, it’d be much easier to date a non-Jew. There are tons of Kosher restaurants, but there are also hundreds more non-Kosher restaurants, many with great smells and sights in their windows. It’s not a rare occurrence for me to drool over the smell of Subway or the sight of a chicken and cheese sandwich. And while Shabbat is easy because of the number of people in my life who keep it, there are definitely moments where I don’t want to take a walk or read a book and instead just pop open my laptop to goof around.

Judaism, and life in general, is full of challenges and tests. Some are easier than others. But just because things are made easier doesn’t make them any less of tests, and any less special when we stick to our guns. I felt guilty when I got here and it seemed like everything was so much easier, I thought life needed to be more difficult. But I think it’s just become relatively easier, and new challenges have started to show — prepping my own home for Shabbat every week or finding the budget to keep kosher. The only bad thing, really, would be for me not to keep pushing myself to grow and find new challenges around me. Whether it’s Judaism for you, or a new place, or whatever the thing in your life, don’t hesitate to try and make it easier. New York has been a great experience, and even better, I’m sure it will bring me many more challenging experiences to help me grow in ways that wouldn’t have been possible when the now-easy parts of my life were difficult.


Just How Jewish Are You? And Not Feeling Jewish Enough…

by Haley Plotnik under JBloggers,Judaism

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:

  1. Going to Jewish sleep away camps (Too old now).
  2. Going to synagogue every week (Not quite ready for this yet).
  3. Having weekly family Shabbat Dinners (Why not start? I may have to find a makeshift family of other rogue Jews).
  4. Going to Jewish day schools (Too old now).
  5. Reading the Torah start to finish (I’m reading Exodus at the moment).
  6. 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:

  1. I know more about Judaism than I give myself credit for, and you probably do too.
  2. I’ll never feel like I am knowledgeable about Judaism if I don’t put in the effort to learn.
  3. There is always more to learn, regardless of how knowledgeable you think you are.

Friday Night Lights

by Kelly under Relationships

A Reform girl and an Orthodox guy walk into a bar…

Don’t tell me you’ve heard this one before. Because I assure you, you have not. Last year, I went out with a guy who was 25, divorced, and Modern Orthodox. And then I went out with a guy who was 25, divorced, and Modern Orthodox. Yes, you are reading that right. Oh, and I should mention they went to the same college. Yes, you are reading this right.

25 – Perfect.
Divorced – At 25?
Modern Orthodox? Didn’t they see that I’m Reform on my profile? And how did I notice this on their JDate profile? I’m Reform. As Orthodox Guy #1 later told me, “You might as well be Christian.” Hello, I was Bat Mitzvahed! He might as well said, “you are never going to meet my parents.”
Two of them – Really, universe? Really?

Like most of the Reform Jewish kids I grew up with, I went to Hebrew school and JCC summer camp, was Bat Mitzvahed, went on Birthright, spent much of my adolescence wearing Juicy sweatpants and listening to Dave Matthews Band. That’s the only way I know how to be Jewish.

It wasn’t until one Saturday at sundown that it hit me just how different our versions of Judaism really are. I was doing that girl thing and getting annoyed that Orthodox Guy #2 wasn’t responding to my texts. It had been about a day. Then around 6 pm that night he started texting me back. Earth to Kelly – his phone was off. Off because he was busy observing shabbat. Shabbat because he’s Modern Orthodox. What was I doing when I got his texts? Blow drying my hair, listening to music, and texting my friends.

It never dawned on me that I would have to consider religious differences on JDate. First of all, neither of these guys gave away their denomination on their profiles. And not to mention, all three times I’ve fallen in love was with Catholic guys. I didn’t think this would be an issue on JDate. The universe or God or maybe just my luck clearly wanted to make a point. And trust me, it did. I now try to avoid dating anyone much more religious than myself. Because as I learned – twice – some Jews prefer a total Shabbat shutdown, and some of us like our Friday night lights.


Dazed & Confused

by Tamar Caspi under JDate,Judaism,Online Dating,Rabbi,Relationships

Dear Tamar,

I’ve been seeing a man who’s not Jewish that I met on a dating site 7 months ago.  We’ve said we love each other, however when we first met, it was Hanukkah and he bought me a huge number of gifts and it felt uncomfortable and overwhelming.  He also bought a menorah and a book about Judaism. It felt like too much for me and he felt rejected by the way I felt. Since then, I thought we had moved on and have spent almost every day together. Recently, he was reading my e-mail and saw a letter I had written to my Rabbi back in January where I had doubts about the relationship because of the fact he wasn’t Jewish. He broke my trust and has apologized but feels hurt I felt that way when we had already been dating for a few months and wants to take a break for a month. I want to respect his wishes but I miss him and know he misses me as he did write me yesterday. I’m just trying to understand whether we have broken up or not and if I should move on or if we are truly taking time to figure out what we want with the intention of possibly getting back together. I don’t understand how you can work something out without talking about it. Can you provide some input and help me to understand? Thank you!

Dear Dazed & Confused,

My initial impulse is to ask: why are you on JDate asking for advice about a relationship with a non-Jew? But the answer doesn’t matter, I’m happy to help as long as you answer a question for yourself first: how important is it to you to marry a Jew? This answer does matter. When you first had doubts, you went to your Rabbi. Now you have doubts again and you’re coming to JDate, so my inclination is to believe that religion is important to you and while you’re on this break you should really think deeply about it. It sounds like this guy might be willing to convert, have you discussed it? If you want to be with this guy – Jewish or not – you need to get him on the phone and then in person to talk. A few days apart to think things through is understandable, each of you needs to put things in perspective and decide what you want from each other, if anything. But now it’s time to get talking because you’re right – you can’t work on a relationship without both parties being present. Good luck!


Star Trek: The Search for Judaism Part 1

by JewishFactFinder under Entertainment,JFacts,Judaism
Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock

Photo Date: 1966 Photo by Ken Whitmore - All Rights Reserved, 1978 Ken Whitmore - Image courtesy MPTV.net

In light of the current J.J. Abrams cinematic reboot of the Star Trek franchise, the JFacts team decided to dig a little deeper and see what impact Jewish people have had on this ever-evolving cultural phenomenon. First and foremost, you should know that three members of Star Trek: The Original Series (or TOS in geekier circles) are, in fact, Jewish.

William Shatner as Captain James Tiberius Kirk

Before negotiating the terms of air travel and hotel stays for Priceline.com, Shatner negotiated through space and time as Captain of the USS Enterprise. Born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Shatner’s grandparents were Jewish immigrants from Poland and Hungry. Shatner’s grandfather was born Wolf Schattner and later anglicized the family name to Shatner. After the initial 1966-69 run of Star Trek, Shatner reprised the role of James Kirk in seven subsequent Star Trek films,starred as the title role in T.J. Hooker and won an Emmy for his performance as attorney Denny Crane in Boston Legal.

Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock

Leonard Nimoy was born in 1931 in Boston, Massachusetts to Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants from Izyaslav, Ukraine. After starring in over 50 television and film roles, Nimoy was cast as Mr. Spock in Star Trek and received three Emmy nominations for playing the complicated half-human, half-Vulcan character. Nimoy would go on to star in seven subsequent Star Trek film adaptations, including 2009’s Star Trek, and directtwo of the films, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and the most successful of the original film adaptations, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Nimoy also directed the 1986 hit comedy Three Men and Baby starring Tom Selleck, Ted Danson and Steve Guttenberg.

Walter Koenig as Pavel Checkov

Koenig was born in 1936 in Chicago, Illinois to Jewish immigrants from Russia who upon coming to the United States shortened their last name from Konigsberg to Koenig. Koenig was added to the cast of Star Trek because of his resemblance to The Monkees star Davy Jones, in an attempt to woo a younger audience. The character was also added because of an article in Pravda (the central publication of the Soviet Union), which complained about the lack of Russians in Star Trek. After the run of the initial television series, Koenig rejoined the cast of Star Trek for six subsequent films and was a frequent cast member n the TV series Babylon 5. Koening stood as best men for Trek cast mate George Takei (Sulu) in his highly-publicized 2008 wedding to Brad Altman.

The Vulcan Salute

One of the most famous lines in Star Trek is the Vulcan salutation, “Live long and prosper,” which is usually accompanied by a hand salute with an extended thumb and a v-shape made by spreading the index and ring fingers. This salute was created by Leonard Nimoy on the fly during the filming of the first episode of the second season of Star Trek: The Original Series. Nimoy felt there should be a distinct greeting amongst Vulcans, something akin to a handshake, so he adopted a gesture similar to what was used in the synagogue he attended as a youth. The Jewish gesture he co-opted for Star Trek is half of the original blessing used by the kohanim, whom are genealogical descendents of Jewish priests from the Jerusalem Temple. The true blessing used for Jewish worship uses both hands. As the Vulcan salute seeped into pop culture, many incorrectly assumed it was a tip of the hat to the hippie culture that arose around the same time. It was not until much later when Nimoy revealed the secret of the salute, that its Jewish origins were made public.