Friday, January 1, 2016

What Kind of Jew Am I?

Jewish. I definitely am Jewish. You might tell by looking at me but I could also look Mexican, Greek, Mediterranean, or any dark raced person. Recently I have been thinking about what being Jewish means to me.

Embarrassingly it means in part what you often hear, "I love your people's foods!" But I do love traditional Jewish food: corned beef, potato pancakes, chopped liver, chicken soup with a matzo ball or kreplach.

My mother made "Gadempte Chicken" (which means over cooked, falling off the bones chicken,) kishke (cow intestine stuffed with a spicy flour, oil, vegetable mixture,) and tongue (I like the tip of the tongue as the back is fairly fatty.)

I think that last comment sounded rather "tongue in cheek," don't you?

My grandmother taught me how to love Gefilte Fish with strong horse raddish and to spread bone marrow (from the beef bones in the barley soup she made) on rye bread. As an aside she always smelled like the herring and Chubb fish she always seemed to be eating.

I love the taste of Mogen David concord grape wine, the heavy sweet kind, not as a wine connoisseur but rather at Jewish holiday time as part of the food tradition. You can get a pretty good buzz on the stuff which helps make the long, drawn out dinner services easier to get through.

I love Mandel Bread and make a pretty good loaf of these cookies myself. One year I got carried away and creative and made: traditional raisin nut, chocolate chip, lemon poppy seed, cranberry orange walnut, raspberry swirl, and a savory garlic onion.

The later became a joke because it happened by accident when I sliced the loaf of warm, steaming, cookies on a cutting board that earlier in the day had been used to cut up 10 pounds of onions and three heads of garlic.)

But enough about the food. I think that I would call myself a Cultural Jew or a Tradition Jew and not a Religious Jew.

The prayers in Hebrew don't translate for me although the traditional melodies are meaningful and memorable. The rocking while dovening (praying) feels good and comes automatically but for the most part I do not believe in praying.

Praying is OK to me if defined as sending forth a positive energy directed towards hoping for a positive outcome (whether for illness, a pending celebration, or the possibility of a new job.)

Praying is OK to me if it has to do with acknowledging how grateful we are for what we and others have and being optimistic for the good we and others will have.

Sometimes that "positive outcome" is not necessarily what one would expect or hope for. For example when someone is gravely ill, perhaps a "positive outcome" might take place not on this side of life but on the other side which is death. Not that we would want someone we loved to die, but that is not for us to decide!

Or sometimes the loss of a job opportunity is success and puts us in a place to receive and accept a better offer. I believe that every step we take, good or bad, easy or difficult, puts us in the right place for the next best which will happen next.

So if prayer has to do with entreating or begging or bargaining with some source outside of myself, who resides in "heaven," while looking at the sky, hoping for what we think should happen to happen, then NO I do not believe in praying.

Taking a risk here, I do not necessarily believe in a "God," at least not like the religion describes and discusses him but I also cannot disprove the existence of a God so I will not deny him or her!

Let me post script here that these are my opinions, I have the utmost respect for others who hold with beliefs that are not ones to which I hold and I do not try to convince or sell them to "come over to my side of thinking!"

Having been raised a Jew and having served my Bar Mitzvah, I probably have been acculturated to live as a Jew and to embrace life with a Jewish attitude towards "my people," towards myself, towards others, towards life.

Jewish history seems to be my history and Moses, Abraham, and the rest seem to set the example for me but the religion itself and the Jewish God has never given me peace of mind or helped me through personal struggles.

I would guess that much of what my Jewish ancestors went through - like making bricks for the Egyptian Pharaoh, traveling in the dessert for 40 days and nights, like receiving the Ten Commandments, like living through the Holocaust, etc! - has helped shaped my behavior and attitude and are strongly if not at times invisibly part of who I am.

So in summary, yes I am Jewish. I embrace Jewish History, Jewish Culture, Jewish Thinking. When asked I will say, Yes, I am Jewish. Hopefully my attitude, behavior, and appearance does not SHOUT Jewish but I am none-the-less, Jewish.

No, I don't follow or agree with all the Jewish Law or Jewish religious practices. I do not go to temple, even at the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) when the attendance for the year is always at its highest.

I do not identify with "Zion" or have any desire to go too Israel. I do not follow U.S. /Israeli politics and honestly feel that is not something I need to care about (with the exception that all people should be free to worship (or not) as they please!)

So there you have it. Nutshell Judaism. I am sure I have not finished thinking about this topic so you might see more here on the blog.

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