Forming a Jewish Identity

Forming a Jewish Identity May 8, 2016


As a Jew by Choice, I didn’t grow up immersed in Judaism. Well, I did grow up in New York City, so Judaism was all around me, just not part of my personal identity.

I was attracted to Judaism because of its intellectual history, its revolutionary ethical spirit, its insights into human dignity and human rights, and its rich mythos. Reading the Reform Jewish platforms were key to my further probing Jewish thought. And there remains something of a mystical aspect to my being drawn to Judaism – something that escapes full explanation and lies outside myself.

My experience with other converts has taught me that every Jew by Choice is drawn to Judaism for different and personal reasons. I don’t pretend to speak for other converts and I would never judge or question their motivations or reasoning for becoming Jewish.

For me, my approach to Judaism was always spiritual and theological. Judaism, for me, is a worldview that is lived through ritual, holidays, myths, observances, and ethical demands.

For whatever reasons, Judaism as Zionism or Judaism as ethnic or cultural identity has never found traction. It’s not that I don’t support Israel’s right to exist – I do. It’s not that I can’t grasp Judaism as a people – I do.

Rather, it’s that my connection to Judaism contains no nostalgia – no family memories, passed on practices, shared stories, or even recipes. My Judaism is a worldview of affirming human dignity, trying to love our neighbors as ourselves, of practicing kindness and justice, showing compassion, and engaging in self-transformation by moving beyond our personal Egypt and breaking free of the constrictions of ego accumulated over time.

My Judaism is not a political project nor a cultural identity. While it touches on such things, it cannot be reduced to them. It’s a spirituality.

In a recent blog post on Reimagining Judaism – Rami Shapiro sums up my approach to Judaism better than I could:

My reimagining of Judaism blends the Original Torah of Moses with the prophetic passion for justice and Rabbi Hillel’s Torah as Compassion to create a Judaism devoted to helping Jews be a blessing to all the families of the earth.

I encourage you to read the entire post – it’s really worth engaging.

How do you understand your Judaism?



Browse Our Archives