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What It Means To Be a Jew? How Do You Answer the Question? 18-Jan-12

What It Means To Be a Jew? How Do You Answer the Question?

Dear friends,

Perhaps some of you have seen this video currently going viral throughout the Jewish world. It is a poem written and recited by Andrew Lustig, who is currently studying at the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem. Take a listen. The poem starts one minute in:

I like this poem a great deal, not so much for its content, per se, but rather as a model of expressing identity. What does it mean to be Jewish? Sure, there is a halakhic definition by which we decide who can have an aliyah to the Torah, lead our congregation in prayer, or have a bar/t mitzvah,  but this sense of “being Jewish” is only the beginning—an opening into a specific worldview and life practice. To say that being Jewish is to be the son or daughter of a Jewish mother or a Jew by choice who has gone through the requisite process of conversion is barely the tip of the iceberg. Being Jewish requires us to move far beyond a basic definition of identity. We find real meaning about our own Jewish identity by contemplating the triggers that bring us pride, excitement, and shame as Jews and the existential reality permeating our own sense of Jewishness.

Lustig’s poem is an invitation to each of us: what would we write in our own poem about our own personal Jewish identity? I do not pose this as a rhetorical question. I think there is real value in accepting the invitation. So, I invite each of you to write something, whether prose or poetry, that expresses your own notion of what it means to be Jewish. If you feel comfortable, please send me your poem, either with attribution or with instructions to leave it anonymous so that we can share our collective work with one another.

And just to give you some hizzuk, some motivation, I promise to share my version of “What it Means to be Jewish” with all of you on this blog in two weeks when I post again.


Rabbi Philip Ohriner