I feel pretty strongly about it, but that doesn’t change the fact that I am often called upon to defend my Judaism anyway. And I often go ahead and defend my Judaism anyway, not because it needs defending, but because I hope that the news that I am not, in fact, an apikoros (heretic) will perhaps allow a few new ideas out into the marketplace. Like, for instance, the idea that one need not be an apikoros to criticize Israel.
And so, hereunder, my answer to the occasionally posed questions that boil down to: What the hell kind of Jew are you?
I am an Israeli Jew, married to an Israeli Jew who was born and raised in Jerusalem. I made aliyah as a young woman, and lived in Tel Aviv for 14 years.
I am also an active member of a Chicago-area Conservative shul. I keep a strictly kosher home — which is to say, I have different sets of dishes (and silverware, and pots, and pans, and…) for meat meals and dairy meals, PLUS two entirely different sets for Passover, in keeping with the laws governing the removal of hametz (leavening) from our homes during Passover.
Come to that, I clean like a madwoman in the lead-up to Passover, annually performing the ritual of “selling” my hametz to a non-Jew, and stripping our lives of anything the least bit contaminated with hametz for a week. I cover my hair when I daven (pray), and I study Torah regularly — I’m currently making my way through Everyman’s Talmud; this summer I worked more directly on Pirkei Avot. I don’t work on Shabbat or holidays, and on holidays, my children stay home from school; we attend services in the morning, and share some Torah study in the afternoon. My family frequently speaks Hebrew in our home, and we visit Israel roughly once a year. I feel very strongly that our job in life — as Jews certainly, but also more generally, as people — is to advance the cause of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.
My politics regarding Israel/Palestine stem from all of that — from the tikkun olam stuff, from the ideas held within our rituals, from the content of our prayers, on and on, and perhaps most especially, from my love of Israel. Israel is my home, and I am a Zionist. A two-state solution in which both sides are allowed human dignity and genuine security would not only be good for the Palestinians (who have been suffering under our boot for far, far too long), but it would also be good for the Jews.
I live in what I think of as the gentle exile of American suburbia not because I stopped loving Israel, but because Israel became so deeply invested in maintaining and perpetuating the immoral and indefensible occupation and settlement project that the entire state is now predicated on little else — and my Jerusalemite husband and I didn’t want to raise our Israeli-Jewish children in such a place. Didn’t want to sacrifice them and their lives on that altar, or raise them in a society in which that sacrifice, that immorality, is deemed holy.
I also happen to be a convert. This matters not at all to me — because as far as I’m concerned, I’m not a convert, I’m a Jew — but in the interests of full disclosure, I include that information here. I converted from a place of deep and abiding faith and trust in the Holy One Blessed Be He, and if we believe our stories, I was at Sinai when He gave our people our Law. I like to believe I was standing right next to my husband, holding my kids’ hands.
Slowly but surely, I find myself becoming a bit less of an Israeli Jew, and a bit more of an American one — this is, in no small part, because of the utter contempt with which Israel as an institution treats the Diaspora. I cannot stand it, and so I find myself throwing my emotional lot in, more and more, with my brothers and sisters on this side of the ocean. My respect for the Diaspora has grown enormously since leaving Israel, as I watch people struggle with a language they don’t know in order to maintain ritual and tradition in the face of a majority culture that really has little space for any of it. It’s a tremendous, and highly admirable, feat.
So what the hell kind of Jew am I? I’m that kind of Jew. Now you know.