The Jewish Thing About Jewish Things
We Jews aren’t very adept at explaining why Judaism is so remarkable.
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When I was a child, my family would be sitting around the dinner table in our Reform Jewish home. Someone’s name would come up — usually, a famous someone — and my mom or dad would randomly add, “You know, they’re Jewish!” Then, I would say, sometimes to myself and other times out-loud, “Who cares?” or “So what?”
Looking back, my parents were simply proud to be Jewish; the idea of having something so tied to their identity — Judaism — in common with a famous person probably seemed “remarkable” to them. As I get older, I find myself playing the “You know, they’re Jewish!” card more and more, because I’ve come to grasp that Judaism is indeed super remarkable!
The problem is, we Jews aren’t very adept at explaining why Judaism is so remarkable. Jewish organizations never fail to tout Judaism’s greatness — sometimes to a fault — but few talk about why it is so great. And hardly any of them impress upon us the symbiosis between Judaism and other strands of life, creating an intellectual hurdle for the everyday person — Jewish and non-Jewish — to understand how Judaism can add contemporary value to their career, their relationships, their hobbies, their soul, and so forth.
We’re kind of like the people who bake a delicious cake, and when someone asks for the recipe, they say: