Oh, har har. Look at that! Get it? Get it?
What bothers me about this is that it, rather accurately, represents the insecurity and lack of authenticity many Reform Jews feel about themselves and their place on the Jewish spectrum. Say I’m taking this too far, go ahead, but I can’t tell you how many people have said some version of the following to me:
“I’m not as Jewish as so-and-so”
“I don’t really clean for Pesach – I’m such a bad Jew [insert uncomfortable laugh]”
“Oh, haha, we don’t go to temple very often; my brother over in [insert Orthodox neighborhood or Conservative shul here] is a real Jew.”
This makes me really sad. I am pretty sure the Orthodox and Conservative movements have not co-opted being Jewish – we are all “real” Jews. Cartoons like the one above only serve to reinforce our fears of inadequacy and ambivalence about ourselves, and stereotypes about us by others.
I get it, I really do. I get that the majority of Reform Jews do not clean as stringently as other versions of Jews. I get that this is the thing to which the cartoon is referring. And, I kind of chuckled. And then sighed. Because while superficially it is amusing, it represents a bigger issue to me.
Here is why this bothers me: when people buy in to their own feelings of inadequacy and ignorance, most give up. Why bother trying or learning? It will never be enough – not like those real Jews. The cartoon could be describing the feelings self-worth (or lack of) of many Reform Jews I know. And this makes me sad. Because how can we be a “light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6 and Isaiah 49:6), how can we be a proud, strong people when we are so insecure that we are too embarrassed to learn about or address what we choose not to do?
It is not about “doing” or “not doing” for me. It’s about knowledge. Clean a lot, clean a little, or don’t clean at all for Pesach? Doesn’t matter. Do you know WHY you do or do not clean for Pesach? THAT MATTERS. Are you observant a lot, a little, or not at all? Doesn’t matter. Are you a thoughtful, educated Jew? THIS MATTERS.
My wish for this Season of Freedom is for us to be released from our doubts and insecurities, for us to pledge to learn more about ourselves and our people, and to pass this to our children – for this is the purpose of Pesach!
Don’t know where to start? Contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org and I will help you! If you’re local and want to get an informal study group together, I’m on board! If you’re not local and don’t know where to turn, contact me and I will point you in the direction of people in your community. If you have rabbis, rebbetzins, educators in your community that you know, call them up! Take ownership of your choices!
A meaningful Passover to all!
You make valid points, Leah. I believe people choose to celebrate (or not) in their own way. I’m certainly not as stringent as my mother is about Passover — I do it the way that it works for me. A Jewish person who doesn’t follow Passover at all isn’t less Jewish to me. That person lives a Jewish life based on that person’s rules.
The whole orthodox, conservative, traditionalist and reform spectrum gives us a place to go that best fits our needs. In each congregation, you’ll find people celebrating every holiday (or not) in different ways.
Diversity should be celebrated, not looked down upon or a consideration of “I’m not Jewish enough” or “She’s too Jewish.” Jewish is Jewish. The rest is up to us.
Oh AMEN Meryl!
You can look at it from the other side. For a business that does custom work, it’s certain customers that make you crazy with their nitpicking. They want you to do everything their way, and demand 5 times as much effort! Try ordering the prices the other way…
I also didn’t find this cartoon very amusing, and thought it was an insulting and shallow stereotyping of the streams shown on the van. Also, I imagined that perhaps he does the same level of cleaning for all, but charges different prices based on affiliation, in which case, the Reformniks would be getting the best deal. ;)
In my experience, someone can adhere to all the trappings of “Orthodoxy” and still not be “as Jewish” as someone who, on the surface may not appear to be as religiously affiliated. Perhaps it’s a reflection on how our society tends to make snap judgments based on appearance. In any case, I’ve met some amazing, fabulous Jews from all corners of life and practice and region. And we’re all Jewish, just different flavors. I think we really all can learn a lot from each other, if we can look past our surface differences.
Sing it sistah!
Funny, I read it as mocking the excessive stringencies of the Orthodox, but I take your point.
I love your generous offer, and the exhortation to LEARN.
I too cringed when I saw the cartoon. Firstly, I dislike the labels in the first place. I don’t know if you agree with that, since you are a proud member of the Reform movement. But being Orthodox, I don’t, as Orthodoxy never was a movement and never created labels. And secondly, anything in print that denigrates a portion of our people is just bad.
But I have a question. You write: “It is not about “doing” or “not doing” for me. It’s about knowledge. Clean a lot, clean a little, or don’t clean at all for Pesach? Doesn’t matter. Do you know WHY you do or do not clean for Pesach? THAT MATTERS. Are you observant a lot, a little, or not at all? Doesn’t matter. Are you a thoughtful, educated Jew? THIS MATTERS.”
Leah, as the wife of a rabbi, can you truly assert that it “doesn’t matter” what you observe or the actions you take? I have a similar belief – that it’s not the ONLY thing that matters. But that’s not the same thing. Can it be that ONLY the process matters, and not the product at all? Can you elaborate?
As always, thanks for making me think.
Ideally, it would be great if process and product were balanced. But I do not think that is the only way, to be honest with you. I truly believe that choosing to take on the process of learning and engaging with our texts and our tradition is a Jewish choice – and whatever comes of that is ok by me, even if it leads to no observance.
Do I wish people would choose more when they decide to become educated? Of course. But I admire and respect people who choose to go through the process and wrestle with it honestly. This, to me, is just as much of a Jewish choice as taking on any rituals or observances.
I’m not sure what you mean by “balanced.” I would like to hear more about that. But it still sounds like you’re saying more observance is preferable. In that case, it does matter. If it’s preferable, it matters.
Would you apply this line of thinking to another arena? Let’s take health – would you say that it doesn’t matter if your child brushes his teeth, as long as he engages and wrestles, then even if he chooses not to, it’s a healthy choice?
It’s hard to convey in writing but please know that there is no sarcasm in my question. Curiosity to understand the mindset. Thanks.
What I meant by “balanced” was that it would be great if process led to more observance. It is my preference – but it’s my personal opinion. In the grand scheme of life, I don’t think it matters. It honestly does not matter to me if someone cleans for Pesach or not, or eats bacon or not. I do not think it has a ripple effect on our community neshoma – and I don’t honestly think it is a theological issue either. But theology – that’s a whole blog SERIES in itself!
Which is why your corollary does not work for me – of course it matters that we brush our teeth, not a lot of philosophy about that. If we don’t take care of our teeth, we don’t have good health. But if someone eats bacon, I do not believe their spiritual health is in danger (their arteries are another story!). For me personally, I connect my spiritual health and my neshoma with my observance. But I do not believe the Jewish people as a whole suffer when one person eats bacon. And I believe that making that connection is personal – the thoughtful, active Jews I know connect their spiritual health with a myriad of Jewish things, not necessarily the same things as me.
I’m sorry but I’m just having a really hard time following your logic. If eating bacon has no deleterious spiritual effect whatsoever, why not indulge? (Once in a blue moon…?)
I didn’t say that *I* wasn’t affected – I make a connection between my observance and my spirituality. I’m not going to eat bacon because it doest fit with how I live my life as a Jew. But that’s me. I don’t feel affected if my friend eats bacon – and if he/she doesn’t feel that it affects them spiritually ok then. It isn’t a consistent logic that I believe can be applied to every Jew – it is up to each Jew individually in my opinion.
There ARE things that I think affect the greater good of the Jewish people, but eating or not eating bacon isn’t one of them. For example, Ahavat Yisroel is one of them – If enough people are not Ohavim Yisroel, we have a problem – both the land and the people. I think Jew-to-Jew violence and hatred is the reason we still do not have a third Temple. I also think that when Jews lie, steal, cheat, murder, etc, it affects our collective soul. I just don’t put bacon in that category. But I still wouldn’t “indulge”, because for *me personally* it is the wrong thing.
I realize this is not so simple, but I hope this helps!
If your friend didn’t believe/observe the bacon thing, would it affect him spiritually to easy it
Whoops…would it affect him (not you, not the greater community, but the eater) if he doesnt buy in mentally?
Right. In order for it to affect him he’d have to buy into the idea that eating or not eating bacon affects you spiritually.
What I think you’re saying, then, is that it has no inherent, independent reality of its own. If you believe it, it’s real, and if you don’t, it’s not. I can’t really think of any parallel. can you think of any other model or system that operates that way?
Every religion in the world :-)
I meant any other system that you subscribe to other than religion.
Wow. I had no idea we had such diametrically different views of Judaism.
Yeah – our views are pretty different :-) Wait until we start talking theology! It’s fun though, having these conversations. I’m glad we can have it respectfully and in friendship. For me, that means so much.