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Jewish Journal

Why be Jewish?

by Brad A. Greenberg

August 3, 2007 | 1:18 pm

Earlier this week, Rob Eshman, The Jewish Journal‘s editor in chief, spent two days in Utah at a conference were leading thinkers of American Jewry tried to answer a seemingly simple question: Why be Jewish?

The answer, obviously, is not so easy.

But Jews like to talk. God talked to Moses and told him to talk to the people. The people talked back, and we really haven’t shut up since.

The Bronfman Foundation, which sponsored the conference last week in Deer Valley, Utah, is set to launch something called the Bronfman Vision Forum that will offer new ways to invigorate and revitalize Jewish life, and this conference was designed to help generate new ideas and programs, and, yes, more conferences. What an endearing and Jewish idea—that talking will save the Jewish people.

But long days of listening provided clarity when Rob listened to Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Westwood.

As he spoke—and as I stared at the back of his head going on hour three—the answer became clear. Why be Jewish? Four words. It’s good for you.

Deep community, spiritual succor, emotional comfort, a challenging intellectual framework for understanding why we’re here, a moral compass to guide you and your children, mental and spiritual discipline, an approach to the Infinite and a shared fate.

It may not always be easy, it may not always feel right, it may not always bring transcendence, it may not be right for everyone at every stage in life, but it’s good for you.

You, of course, may not agree. But we can talk about it.

I’ve offered my thoughts on this before, and I will again. There are varying degrees and ways by which people self-identify as Jewish. (I sipped tea yesterday with Rachel Levin, who has been very involved in addressing this through REBOOT.)

For a Christian named Greenberg, I’m more aware of the way others identify Jews—by their name, appearance, attire, profession. But that doesn’t change the fact that inside the tribe, Jewish paranoia guarantees that every generation will worry about whether the next will care about being Jewish.

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