We could have started 2013 by writing some deadly serious editorial about Israel, or Iran, or gun control or [fill in the blank].
Instead, we’re going to share a tweet with you. (All you readers who aren’t fans of Twitter, please, bear with us.)
It comes from David Wolkin, executive director of Limmud NY, a gathering of Jewish learners in the Big Apple, and he took aim at a question many Jewish scholars have wrestled with in recent years: “Why be Jewish?”
Here’s what Wolkin tweeted:
“For all the constant talk about ‘Why be Jewish’ my old teacher Dr. Alex Sinclair still gave the best answer: ‘Because I like it.’ ”
In recent years, as intermarriage continues, synagogue attendance declines and many Jewish leaders wring their hands, wondering how to keep the next generation engaged in Judaism, or simply living a Jewish life, Sinclair might be on to something.
He could have offered a scholastic or philosophical response to that question, one that would require more space than this editorial has to explain.
Instead, he kept it simple and appealing — ‘because I like it.’
Alex Sinclair, by the way, is a lecturer in Jewish education at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, a researcher at Makom‐ the Israel Engagement Network of the Jewish Agency and an adjunct assistant professor of Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary. All which means he is qualified to give a more complex answer to the “why be Jewish” question and smart enough to offer a simple one.
“Because I like it.”
Think it’s too simple? Maybe. But consider how many Jews show up at synagogue only for the High Holy Days — if at all. Think of all the b’nai mitzva kids who drop out of Jewish life immediately after the party. How about all those temple officers or committee chairs who grudgingly accept their positions then do little more than keep the seats warm until the next annual meeting (we all know someone like that).
Worst of all, what about all the Jews who never boarded a flight to Israel.
If you ask these Jews about their identity, chances are they say they’re proud to be Jewish, that they feel a deep connection to Judaism, or an obligation to pass their Jewish heritage to the next generation.
But how many of them actually say they like being Jewish?
Wow! Sinclair may have hit the mother lode.
Maybe instead of asking ourselves, why be Jewish, we should ask, how can we like being Jewish? How can we relish lifting a Torah on Rosh Hashana, dressing up on Purim, planting a tree on Tu B’Shevat or talking Jewish topics over coffee?
Or maybe liking being Jewish means expressing it in our own ways, not in the ways convention dictates. That needs to be respected — and encouraged.
Let’s hope 2013 is the year Jews stop seeing Jewishness as an obligation they neither appreciate nor want and start to view it as an enriching identity they embrace — and like.