Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I don't even know how to talk about this.

This article from Ha'aretz about a Canadian who, after converting under Orthodox auspices in Canada, is being denied Right-of-Return to Israel because his conversion is 'unacceptable', reminds me of everything that we get wrong when we talk about religion, and why so many people find any attempt at maintaining a connection to their Judaism profoundly difficult.

The irony that, had he converted under Reform or Conservative supervision, he would have been accepted, is not lost on me, but it doesn't make it any better.

I just don't understand why we end up having these internal fights over 'who is a Jew' instead of dealing with matters of substance--what Judaism should teach us about our moral and social obligations, for example, or how we can experience divinity in a post-holocaust age. Nope. Let's argue over whether a committed individual who wants to live a Jewish life 'counts'.

I'm reminded of a conversation I had in the gym the other day with someone who asked me whether a non-Jew could have a bar mitzvah. Baffled, I asked her what she meant, and she asked a different question: whether someone is Jewish if the mother isn't Jewish. I said yes, if raised as such, and she asked "by everyone?"

How about a new deal: let's stop questioning each other whether we're 'really' Jewish, and start building meaningful Jewish experiences together. I'm not so naive as to say that we need no boundaries or definition, or that there aren't illegitimate claims on Jewishness (see: Messianic Jews). But would someone point out why I should minimize others' meaningful connections to Judaism, set up higher and higher walls to keep caring, loving and engaged people out, and otherwise waste my time and energy bullying people? Because that's what it amounts to: bullying. And really, I'd rather figure out the best way to support Israel while preventing it from sliding into some kind of Kafkaesque nightmare, or promoting efforts to support the hungry in our community, or getting people engaged in Torah study, or ANYTHING ELSE.

1 comment:

  1. I continue to read your blogs as they are thought provoking, honest and enlightening. The situation in Israel is very disconcerting to me too. However, equally disconcerting is the way some local synagogue communities "set up higher and higher walls to keep caring, loving and engaged people out." You stated in one of your blogs that you felt you had a successful day because you brought someone back to membership. Have you ever had a moment of remorse for kicking a caring, loving, devoted Jew out with the threat of calling the police if she were to ever return? In retrospect, has your synagogue achied what you wanted by doing so. To what degree are things better there because of that act? This is not entirely about who is a Jew, but as much about how Jews should treat each other.