What I Love About Being Jewish


#1

I am now 59. I was Bar Mitzvahed in May 1970 and at that point almost abandoned any active interest in Judaism. That proved to be temporary. I series of developments from the summer of 1972 through the next winter changed my perspective. I am now an active, somewhat observant Reform Jew. My interest started to develop during the second half of the summer of 1972. I changed sleep-away camps and met a much more mature group of primarily Jewish campers. After camp was over the Olympic massacres concentrated my mind a bit.

But the two main factors were Judaism’s pragmatic death rituals (which suddenly became very important to me) and being made aware, by a sharp rebuke by a then-stranger, and now close friend of 44 years of Judaism’s promotion of education, accomplishment and family.

Role of Judaism’s Death Rituals

Judaism’s death rituals are almost unique. They are well-known for centering around the rapid scheduling of the funeral, rapid burial of the body, and a short but intense mourning period, called “Shiva.” When I was growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I actually had very little interest in Judaism. I cleaned out my desk at Hebrew school first class day after my Bar Mitzvah on May 2, 1970.

Fast forward to late 1972 and early 1973, my sophomore year of high school. Even before my father’s death of January 5, 1973, I had developed friendships with people who took Judaism seriously. More on that below.

My father died in the wee hours of the morning of January 5, 1973. By that afternoon The rabbi was in our living room going over the funeral. He carefully explained the rationale of Jewish death rituals, and I participated actively in the drafting of the eulogy. I frankly learned more about Judaism in that 30 to 60 minutes then I learned in my last year of Hebrew school, when I was 12 and 13. That was in the spring of 1970.

Since then I’ve always found Jewish rituals concerning death both sensible and comforting. In fact, I wrote the eulogy for my stepfather’s funeral in 2013, and my mothers a year later.

I love the valuation of education, of family cohesiveness and orientation towards accomplishment.

Family and Educational Values

During the fall of my sophomore year of high school, during 1972, I was cracking a typical joke about “doctors, lawyers and Rabbis.” Someone who I never met before, whose first name was also Jim but had a distinctly non-Jewish last name, interrupted me and asked if I was Jewish. (More on this person,Advice on Upcoming Tense 40th High School Reunion). Then he said “don’t you have any pride in your religion or heritage?” He went on to point out the number of people with accomplishments that were Jewish. This from another 15-year-old high school sophomore. To this day, despite some rifts, we remain very close friends.

The fact that Jewish families are typically very close provides a nurturing environment for education. Homework is taken seriously by parents. Trust me, he children turn in it. That just doesn’t happen in many other families. Also, bullying and violence are seriously discouraged. This reduces opportunities for distraction and drama.

Jews are not perfect by any means. But overall, for a religion or culture, I’ll take it any day.


#2

JBG: Thank you for sharing all of that. I love learning more about the Jewish people, histories, and culture. Many of the Jewish worship traditions are part of the Catholic liturgy and have been for centuries. The priest’s garb, the use of an altar for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, decorations of the Church, the use of incense, and many other Catholic traditions have come directly from the Jewish practices of worship. Much of our Tradition is steeped in your Tradition, JBG. The sacrifice of the unblemished lamb as an offering to God in reparation for our sins… In our Tradition, Jesus is the unblemished lamb sacrificed for our sakes and our sins. There’s just so much there.

Only as an adult have I begun to explore these wonderful, traditional, and spiritually enriching connections we have together. As a youngster, we learned about the Pascal sacrifice, the Passover, the Seder, the meaning of Yom Kippur and Hannukah (sp?), and so forth. But, never connecting any of this to ourselves or our faith. The connections between the two faiths are rich in history, culture, and the recognition of the Creator of all the universe, and our ultimate ascendancy to union in Him.

May I ask a few questions?

  1. Why do Jewish men bob back and forth when they pray? What is the meaning/purpose of this?
  2. What are the little boxes on Jewish men’s foreheads?
  3. How is the Talmud different from the Torah? I know the basic differences, but how was the Talmud developed and by whom?
  4. What is Zionism? I’ve asked this before, but I’ve never gotten a clear answer to my question. Jane Fonda was a Zionist back in the 60’s during the Vietnam war. She was reviled for it. If she was pro Israel (Zionist?), why was she ridiculed?
  5. Can a gentile become a citizen of Israel?

Just some questions, if you don’t mind. I hope I haven’t been offensive in my questions. It was not my intent.