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.

62 thoughts on “Jewish and normal”

  1. David, I write after reading your blog on the twitter storm over your very short jewish tweet.(Feb 2022) Acknowledging I’m not a twitterer, I saw this as much Ado about nothing. When I compare this blog with that outrage I reckon you’d best eschew Twitter mate, David

  2. Such a beautiful piece about WP as a vehicle for human connection. And I love your post’s title. 🙂

  3. 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.


  4. 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 .

  5. 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. ❤️

  6. 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. 💐

  7. 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.

  8. 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.


  9. 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:

      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.


      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.


    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 🙂

      David ben Alexander

  10. 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!

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