More than one-hundred years ago, the philosopher, Leo Tolstoy asked “What is a Jew?” Some of his response conveys that the Jew “did not succumb to any worldly temptations offered by his oppressors and persecutor so that he would renounce his religion and abandon the faith of his fathers. A Jew is a sacred being who procured an eternal fire from the heavens and with it illuminated the earth and those who live on it. He is the spring and the source from which the rest of the nations drew their religions and beliefs…”
Earlier in the week, I asked my Confirmation class of teenagers to respond to the question: “When I consider the meaning of being Jewish, I think of ____________.” Here are some of their responses:
*A community that does mitzvot/good deeds, respect for parents; being a good person.
*being part of a community with a shared set of values and ancestry.
*Repairing the world.
*Having my own connection with God and doing Mitzvot.
*Staying connected to the community through being involved.
*being a holy community of people who believe relatively the same things.
*Being different and having a unique identity.
*Remembrance of the people who sacrificed their lives in order for me to live my life.
*Going to Shabbat services and celebrating Jewish holidays with family and friends.
These are among the thoughtful and challenging responses of a group of fifteen-year-olds. They bespeak the values and ideals that we Jews continue to cherish and that are at the heart of Jewish identity.
As parents and grandparents, may we be worthy role-models for our children and grandchildren. No, there is no single definition of what it means to be a Jew; only to say “all of the above” and more.