Forward to My Essay
What Makes a Jew ‘Jewish’? is the title of one of my Chabad references in Chabad’s Supernal Jews. It’s a far cry from ‘What makes a human Jewish?’ Well, human I am. What makes this human Jewish? Both my parents were Jewish and were well aware. My father was German, and I was born in Germany in 1932. We were lucky. My mother’s German-born parents were already living in Newark, New Jersey. We got out of Nazi Germany in 1937 and out of Holland to the U.S. in September 1940. (I still have visual memories of an air raid shelter, lifeboat drills, and a gas mask too large for my small head.) We were liberal Reform Jews, celebrated the High Holidays in Temple and at home, skipped Friday prayers, ate everything, and stretched Chanukah into Christmas when the calendar didn’t cooperate.
I can’t think of any other Jew in the private, secular high school I attended (which started every morning with an assembly that included a Christian hymn, an unanticipated benefit that introduced me to formal multiculturalism, so to speak). In my freshman year at college I joined a Jewish fraternity. We painted the walls and desegregated the frat house. It was my first extended experience (outside my family) with Jews my age. I learned the rest of my life from many of my fraternity brothers: Be a better human and ‘Jew’ will take better care of itself. Whether or not you’re religious. I’m not. (more…)