“Jewish” is possibly the most under-the-radar, versatile and vague word in the English language. The word “Jewish” can be used almost as frequently as a slang or curse word, but at least seems applicable in each use. There is the stereotypical Jewish mother, the Jewish State of Israel, the “Jew-fro hairstyle,” the Jewish synagogue and ancient Jerusalem’s Jewish archeology. The reason this term applies to nearly every scenario is also the core reason why I love Judaism: the complex and inseparable integration between the Jewish religion and culture.
In the modern day, Jewish mothers always greet you at the door with delicious food (and are insulted if you even consider not eating it). If asked why, she would answer simply “because my mother did it that way.” This answer can be traced back generations until Avraham, the believed first Jew, who was notorious for similarly opening his tent to strangers. This hospitality is neither exclusively religious nor cultural, rather, it is just Jewish, and always has been. There is no way to fairly separate Judaism into two exclusive entities.
Furthermore, Jews are supposed to question why we do specific prayer rituals, why we have a complete day of rest, or why we always find an excuse to eat, schmooze and kvetch (complain about the most insignificant things). Upon personal analysis, a Jew can agree with the explanation of a specific moral from the Torah, while completely disagreeing with a different idea conveyed from the Rabbis. In doing so, that Jew will incorporate the former, agreeable idea into their lives, while omitting the illogical latter. Either way, that person is still appreciated as being Jewish, with no ranking on how “Jewish” they are. Each Jew practices their own forms of Judaism, for that is where their connection lies. That connection is respected, regardless of how intense the corresponding practices are.
Personally, I feel my connection to Judaism through (generally) following the dietary rules of eating kosher, observing Shabbat every week (Saturday, the day of rest) and sporting the kippah/yarmulke around campus. However, I know relatively nothing about the Torah, rarely ever pray or even fully believe in the God as described in the Torah. I do not think it is important whether or not the stories narrated in the Torah are word-for-word true; it is the underlying lessons and morals that are crucial. I do recognize some ultimate cosmic balance that humans simply cannot understand, and how there is some karma-related justice out of our control. To pinpoint my God, I think the godliness within each of us is the ability to connect to every other person, if we both give it a true, genuine effort.
Regardless of how different or similar interpretations of God may be to different Jews, we are still part of that indescribable Jewish peoplehood that thrives throughout the world. When I travel to South America after graduating, my first stop will for sure be at the local Chabad house, where I know I will be welcomed as a son returning home. Maybe it is because we are a tiny minority in the world, or maybe it is the balance of similarities and differences stemming from the same beliefs that draw us together.
But there is just something about being Jewish that guarantees I’m part of a worldwide extended family, and that I will feel the indescribable connection with any Jew, simply because of our shared traditions. I’m part of a minority that has flourished for thousands of years through the world’s ugliest parts of history. I’m responsible for the continuation of our religion/culture, even through the newest and strongest waves of anti-Semitism ever. I was born into the Jewish tradition, and I have the responsibility and privilege to continue it — and I couldn’t be prouder.