Jewish and normal

I had an unexpected flash of insight the other day regarding the following themes:

  • My Jewish identity
  • Living in Israel
  • Blogging on WordPress

My Jewish identity

While I only encountered Orthodox Judaism and gradually began to adopt a religious lifestyle in college, I have always strongly identified as a Jew. If I were to sort the many facets of my identity out into a hierarchy, I would put the label ‘human’ at the very top. My second tier would include: ‘brother’, ‘father’, ‘heteronormative male’. ‘husband’, ‘Jew’, and ‘son’ in no particular order.

For several reasons, the many strictures of religious Jewish life have always appealed to me. In part, I feel that I am simply being outwardly true to my core identity by presenting myself as a Jew publicly in the most apparent way possible.

Mind you, I began college more than twenty years ago; and my religious journey has had many ups and downs in the many years since. There were periods when I reverted to a secular lifestyle, and there were periods when I managed to convince myself that the God of the Torah existed and strived to follow His laws to my utmost accordingly.

I have been up, down, and all around on the spectrum of religious Judaism. However, throughout those years during which I turned back towards secularism, I always missed the outward trappings of traditional observance. The personal inconveniences of keeping strictly kosher, keeping Shabbat traditionally, praying thrice daily, etc., never bothered me ~ it was, rather, always a question of the extent to which any of these practices actually mattered.

Nevertheless, it’s important to note that while I never minded the demands that traditional Judaism made upon my life, I did find myself wishing that my religious lifestyle wouldn’t create such barriers between me and all other human beings on earth who were not attempting to live a traditional Torah lifestyle.


Living in Israel

Not religiously comfortable for all Jews

From a religious perspective, Israel is not necessarily a comfortable place for all Jews to live.

For political and historical reasons, the Chief Rabbinate is Orthodox, rather than heterodox (Conservative, Reform, etc.), and its religious monopoly over Jewish life operates with the full weight of the government behind it. For example, Jewish weddings performed in Israel outside the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate are granted no legal status (and civil marriage does not exist). Also, the Chief Rabbinate’s state-empowered religious monopoly grants it the exclusive right to certify Israel’s food establishments as “kosher”, unlike everywhere else in the world.

Also, questions of Jewish status are decided by the Chief Rabbinate for religious purposes. This decides whether or not citizens of Israel can get married in Israel at all, where they can be buried when they die, etc., etc. Therefore, Israeli citizens whose mothers are not Jewish, as required by religious law, are considered “not Jewish” by the Chief Rabbinate, and they cannot legally marry Jews in Israel without first undergoing religious conversions under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate (even if they are secular).

Religiously comfortable for me

While I 100% oppose these infringements and all others on freedom of religion in Israel, the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly over religious Jewish life does not much inconvenience me on a personal level because I happen to live an Orthodox lifestyle (my wedding, for example, was conducted through the Chief Rabbinate).

Also, while I have explored and flirted with non-Orthodox religious communities, they do not feel like home to me personally. Therefore, as the vast majority of Israeli synagogues are Orthodox, my religious preferences are not marginalized in most public prayer spaces. Further, even when my commitment to my religious practices vacillates, it is always fluctuating on the spectrum between Jewish secularism and Orthodoxy, both of which are mainstream in Israeli society.

All of this is to say that I feel very at home in Israel from a religious perspective. Kosher food is – and kosher food establishments are – abundant, synagogues are available everywhere, the national holidays are my own religious holidays, etc., etc.

Living here in Israel (especially in Jerusalem) dramatically lowers the religious barriers between me and all the other people around me.


Blogging on WordPress

I have been increasingly enjoying the sense of community that I have discovered here on WordPress.

Bloggers from around the world share with – and are supportive of – one another, and for the first time since moving to Israel I have been feeling significantly less divorced from global society, which is predominantly not Jewish.

The unexpected insight that I had last week is that our virtual WordPress community grants me something not entirely dissimilar from that which living in Israel grants me: a sense of normalcy.

Of course, I am aware this comparison has many flaws. For one, every blogger chooses whom to interact with on their blog and on other people’s blogs. My virtual community is entirely self-selected and filtered according my preferences… and, of course, writing and reading blog posts is a far cry from in-person interactions… but… well…

Here on WordPress, I feel simply human.

58 thoughts on “Jewish and normal”

  1. Your essay is clearly written and helps me to understand you better. I don’t understand the Jewish Orthodox vs. secular but I don’t need to to understand what you’re saying about a feeling of freedom to be and sense of normalcy. I’ve always been what most in my neck of the woods would agree as “different” from childhood on. Some are more accommodating of different than others. The online writing community here at WP seems to have wide open arms for accommodating all. I’m glad you’re here! ::cue Mr. Rogers Neighborhood music::

    1. Thanks, Lisa 🙂

      Yeah, I know that for people who are outside of the Jewish community (and even for many people inside it) the distinctions I am making are mostly meaningless. Before college, they were mostly meaningless to me too… but I do try to write about them in general enough terms that other can relate… at least ideally.

      (I used to love Mr. R. as a little boy!)


      David

  2. Wonderfully written. It truly is a weight off of our shoulders when we find a community that accepts and values our views! I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind support, Gordon. I really appreciate it. In truth, most of my posts are poems… but sometimes I wax introspective 😉

      Sincerely,
      David

  3. Aw that is such a true statement. The part about WordPress giving us a sense of normalcy. I can somewhat relate to that. Yes, we choose the people we interact with here but isn’t that true for even real life friends. Family is people we cannot choose but friends in fact are those we select and want to stay in touch with. I think virtual relationships do go a long way and can be pretty fulfilling and validating when relied on correctly. An excess of anything can be harmful but otherwise, I have often found comfort in sharing or just talking with a long distance online friend from a different part of the world that I couldn’t begin to share with my friends here. Maybe the slight unaccessible in daily life aspect gives it an amount of confidentiality that we cherish. I love how eye-opening it is too. The cultural intermingling, learning about others and finding similarities or even differences, that’s a beautiful experience. 💜💜

    1. The cultural intermingling, learning about others and finding similarities or even differences, that’s a beautiful experience.

      Shruba, I love this aspect of WordPress ❤

      Thank you for the kind comment.

      Yours,
      David

  4. If you read any more of my posts, you will see that introspection is what I am all about! Doing what I can from deep in the woods of North-Central Pennsylvania, United States to spread the idea of getting to know and accept ourselves as we are. Who knows, perhaps I will try waxing poetic a bit more. 😉

  5. David, it is heartwarming to read that you feel a sense of belonging to both your community and your blog interactions, your virtual community. I am grateful to be part of your virtual community and appreciate your posts and our mutual comments. I also appreciate learning about your culture and religion, as I have shared before. Not a substitute for in-person, as you mentioned, but this blog platform allows us to interact with people in other parts of the world, we would otherwise not have the opportunity to, which broadens our minds, hearts, and perspectives, even if those interacted with are self-selected. 😊

    1. I am grateful to be part of your virtual community and appreciate your posts and our mutual comments.

      Michele,

      It’s entirely mutual 🤍

      Sincerely,
      David

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this David. What I relate most closely to is, as I understand it, a welcome sense of normalcy with, beyond and underneath our given or chosen identities. There will be more to share when the time is right. Good night for now,

      1. a little token of things to share about this: Recently I was fortunate to meet online US yoga teacher Matt Sanford who as a disabled man, teaches what I call felt sense yoga. In a public talk he said ‘I don’t think narrative explains mystery, it points to mystery’ – very relevant to how we are, can be, beginning to learn to deal with religion…?

  7. Hi David.
    I always appreciate you introspction. This struck me most and I so love what you said: “hierarchy, I would put the label ‘human’ at the very top. My second tier would include: ‘brother’, ‘father’, ‘heteronormative male’. ‘husband’, ‘Jew’, and ‘son’ in no particular order”.

    Your heart is what speaks to me the most and your kind understanding and acceptance whereever you are and whatever belief one might have. In your case your roots and living in Isreal and taking the best of what it has to offer in the same way you do our Word Press community. I am honored you chose me to interact with here and I appreciate and learn and grow from you.
    Thank you for this post and happy Valentines Day! ❤️ Cindy

  8. Really beautiful post David… We are Learning more and more about you and Judaism. It’s very interesting, intriguing & lovely. WordPress definitely provides a sense or normality and lack of judgement. It’s a special place to share, reflect, read, interact and learn. Feeling home and at peace is important in all aspects of life. Thanks for sharing this post and a little more about you 😊🌹

  9. The closeness of the Israeli state and the Jewish faith confuses people here, I think. So while it might provide a sense of identity from the inside, it is not so clear from the outside.
    Just in our last election here in 2019, it seemed to be a big deal for the “left” party in particular. Many people made comments – I will be charitable and say that they were intended as anti-Israeli – which came across as anti-semitic. Really, I think many people here cannot tell the difference.
    And the reason I think it is a “people” problem rather than a “left” problem is that the right has exactly the same tendency… but toward Islam.

    1. Of course. It’s very confusing – even to people who live in Israel who don’t have a broader global and/or historical perspective. It’s also confused by the conflation of “Jewishness” and “Judaism”… Judaism is not exclusively a faith identity – it’s also a matter of descent and peoplehood. That’s why there are completely secular and atheistic Jews whose “Jewishness” is considered entirely legitimate according to the strictest religious positions.

  10. Quite an insightful write! I do appreciate your authentic views on Judaism. It grows more fascinating the more I learn about it’s traditions and customs.
    WordPress does offer such a lovely community, devoid of harsh judgement and encouraging all forms of art. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that WordPress is a world in itself and there’s a blog out there for each and every one of us. Truth be told, I think I’ve learned more life lessons from here than I have in over 7 years from school 😂

    1. I appreciate your interest and your kindness, D.

      And I (and my father before me) would be the first to agree that schooling and education are not the same thing at all!

      BTW, how many years do you have left?

      Yours,
      David

  11. One more interesting and informative post for me. I was wondering what are the consequences if marriage performed outside the Chief Rabbinate’s auspices is not granted legal status. For the couples and their offsprings. I came to know a lot about Israel and Jewish traditions through your blog. Thanks 🙏

    1. the consequences if marriage performed outside the Chief Rabbinate’s auspices is not granted legal status

      Kaushal,

      It’s a complicated political and religious mess…

      There’s the risk of children being born who are ascribed a religious status that would leave them religiously ostracized and unable to marry other Jews.

      Also, while Israelis can (and often do) fly abroad to get married civilly according to the laws of other countries (like Cyprus), which the Israeli government is forced to recognize back home in Israel, they cannot then get civilly divorced – the Chief Rabbinate has a TOTAL monopoly over Jewish divorces.

      Really, books and dissertations have been written about this horror show.

      1. I agree, it’s not a happy situation. Thank you, David, for enlightening me with the factual position.

        1. Kaushal,

          Providing and receiving objective truth, to the extent that I am capable of doing so, is important to me.

          💜
          David

  12. It’s easy to be religious when you’re surrounded by people of like minds. It takes true strength to put your faith out there for the world to see. I love reading your posts. You provide such insight into who you are as a person and how your culture and religion plays such a big part in who you are. While I don’t fully understand Judaism, I enjoy reading about it through your eyes. I agree with you that the blog platform allows us to reach out to others that we wouldn’t normally communicate with. I love seeing the world through others eyes. We all interpret things a little differently and those differences is what makes us unique. Thank you for sharing! Looking forward to reading more from you!

    1. David,

      Like most people, I want to be understood for who I am… The light I am hoping to shine is primarily upon myself, and Judaism and “Jewishness” are the context 🙂

      Yours,
      David ben Alexander

  13. Having no strong religious or ethnic identity, I’m always interested in those who do, even while finding religion and ethnic identity in general to be divisive and intolerant of differences. While I find the melting pot to be a myth also, I wonder how such a divided world can work together. If we are to save life that surely must happen.

    But perhaps you are right, the virtual world that often further divides us, can also serve to repair the gaps. At any rate, I’m glad to have your thoughtful posts to open my own mind to other ways of being. (K)

    1. Kerfe, a couple of thoughts on this –

      First, I find it hard to explain, even to myself, why I have always cared so much about being a Jew, but it is a fact about myself that I have been unable to avoid. My pursuit of understanding what Judaism and Jewishness are to me has profoundly shaped my life.

      Also, some of my thinking on the matter, in case you are curious and/or bored, I shared here: https://skepticskaddish.com/2020/10/19/to-india-and-others-with-love/

      For what it’s worth, I agree with you and worry about the following:

      finding religion and ethnic identity in general to be divisive and intolerant of differences.

      … but I also think it’s an unavoidable facet of human nature to form group identities.

      Yours,
      David

      1. I agree David. I sometimes feel like I belong nowhere. And I do find that even my non-religious Jewish friends identify strongly as Jewish, perhaps because that’s how others define them first. I think that may be true of black people as well. The world puts a label on you. No one has put a label on me in that same way.

        On a related note, my older brother converted to Judaism (although I have no idea if it was an Orthodox conversion, I know he studied hard) when he married a Jewish woman. When they divorced, he did not stop being a Jew, which flummoxed my mother. He likes the intellectual rigor of it, and I think it suits him. He still goes to synagogue though his second marriage is to a Christian. So in a way I understand what you are saying.

        1. He still goes to synagogue though his second marriage is to a Christian.

          That is unusual, and I am totally supportive of it 🙂

          Thanks for sharing, Kerfe.

          Yours,
          David

  14. This was so informing. I’m not Jewish but I was always fascinated with how the Jewish community is in the 21st century. Thank you for giving us the first hand experience.

    1. Ruth, it’s my pleasure, truly ~ my identity is so wrapped up in “Jewishness” and Judaism that it’s profoundly difficult for others to truly understand where I’m coming from if I don’t hash out some of the basics. (at least, that’s how it seems to me!)

      Thank you for your kind comment.

      Sincerely,
      David

  15. I am really happy for you that you’ve found a home in Israel. Thank you also for recognizing that Israel is not a religiously comfortable home for all Jews. (A lot of Israelis tout Israel as a one-size-fits-all for all Jews and I find this extremely irritating). I love Israel. I enjoy traveling to Israel for vacation. I lived in Israel for several months and enjoyed the experience. Israel is not where I feel at home.

  16. I enjoyed reading your thoughts here! I’m always curious about other religions and cultures, so I am naturally attracted to the diverse community here on WordPress. I think most writers and poets can find common ground as we are all inspired to create and share what moves us. 💐

  17. I am very ignorant about Jewish faith and traditions. Your blog is my window to it. For us in India, secularism has a different meaning; equality of all religions.
    WordPress is also my window to the world as I get first hand introduction to various cultures, practices and people. But more than that, it helps me connect with other creative people who are very generous and thoughtful. Happy to have met you here. ❤️

  18. I’ve only just discovered the outlet of blogging on WordPress and I feel the therapy in each post I write. Thank you for sharing and I agree with your sentiments about the WP community .

  19. I identify myself as a secular humanist, but I strongly believe in the right of individuals to practice their religion of choice. The major issue I have with some religious people is that they feel that they have “the truth.” This allows them to condemn others, impose their views, try to convert others to their religion, and start wars.

    I love WordPress for its diversity and open-mindedness. Bloggers are generally intelligent, curious, creative, and very supportive of their fellow bloggers.

    Thank you, David, for helping your readers to understand Judaism and the state of Israel. I think it important for people everywhere to understand each other. Maybe someday we will have peace. ❤

    1. Cheryl, that is my problem with some religious people too. I think you & I are on a very similar page. Thank you for your kind support along my journey. I really appreciate it.

      I hope you are doing well.

      Yours,
      David

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