New Jews: Blessing or Nuisance
There’s a YouTube Video called Jew Walking that was posted three years ago outside of the JCC in Manhattan’s Upper West Side that got me thinking. It was not surprising to me that the youngest person question, a girl over Bat Mitzvah age was able to answer the most correctly. If I were to be stopped outside the JCC I could confidently answer nearly all of the questions. Why? Because I’m a New Jew.
You know us: Those know-it-all, overtly enthusiastic, pseudo-preachy types. We probably annoyed you in high school with our arms flailing in the air, desperate that teacher call on us (again). We ruined those “this will be a short lecture days” with constant questioning of the professors and furious note-taking. Brown-Nose, Smarty-Pants, Goody Two-Shoes, Know-it-All, Kiss-Ass…I’ve heard it all, and it’s why I’ll make a damned-good rabbi. Last class, our rabbi declared me most enthusiastic student. I can rattle off Jewish tidbits and knowledge fairly easily and when my Jewish friends ask me Jewish questions and I generally know the answer.
Let’s just get something straight-I’m not a better Jew, I’m a newer Jew. Say it again-I’m a New Jew. I have a theory that all religious study should occur in adulthood. Perhaps if I’d learned about Christianity as a 31-year-old I’d be in a different place. As it stands, whether you’re a Catholic going for Confirmation or a Jewish boy becoming Bar Mitzvah, you’re asking a lot from a 13-year-old child. Everything I know about Judaism, I’ve learned as an adult, because I made the conscious decision after years of inner struggle to convert to Judaism. Ask me specifics about Catholicism, say the other 6 sacraments, and I’d probably not do as well because I learned those while bored out of my mind in high school.
I decided to convert to Judaism after 31 years of uninspired Christianity and while I still have X amount of time before I dive into the mikvah I know that I will always run into folks who don’t understand how and why I Jew. And That’s OK. The idea of taking on not only a new faith but something as personal as a culture is daunting. My Judaism challenges my partner’s idea of her Judaism but my Judaism doesn’t have to be yourJudaism. Growing up in 12 years of Catholic school with a Methodist father and Baptist mother I knew a few things for certain. The Preacher-man/Priest was always right and there was no arguing with him. That certainty is how I fell off the Christian wagon, actually. In Bible study I asked my Pastor to clarify what I learned that day in religion class. I learned that Judaism was the root religion for Islam and Christianity. He responded that Jews and Muslims didn’t believe in his God and it put me off Christianity instantly. I asked more questions and he shut me down.
Jews, on the other hand, are willing to go toe-to-toe with you and that’s something I like. I enjoy getting into conversations about Judaism with my Jewish friends, both born-Jews and Jews by Choice. I love learning from other people and challenging how they think, with what I’ve learned. I love relearning things I thought I knew about Jews and realizing that what I thought I knew was inaccurate.
I’m a loud-mouth and I’ve always pissed people off. I don’t back down and because I am my father’s daughter, I generally think I’m right all of the time. Sitting around the Seder table three times this year, my first Pesach, allowed me to remember that my status as a New Jew comes not only with a thicker skin but also with the ability to not only share what I’ve learned but to understand that the learning process is life-long.