Are we living Jewishly? This is a very challenging time in the world to think about this question. When Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, 2023 it altered the world, especially the Jewish world. One of my favorite movies is “Legally Blonde,” a story about a sorority girl who goes to Harvard Law School. After many twists and turns, she ends up graduating first in her class. She is working at a top law firm where she wants to champion animal rights, but the firm fires her. She takes her fight to Capitol Hill. When she gets the opportunity to speak to Congress about the bill, she urges all of us – to find our voices and “Speak up America, Speak up.”
I think many of us live “Jewish” quietly, and now it’s time to speak up against terrorists and antisemitism, which can be uncomfortable and scary. If you don’t feel like you know the facts, learn them. It’s also scary because many of the people in our lives, friends and family are silent. Many people say they are not religious but identify with being Jewish. What does that mean exactly? It seems like a crazy time and the right time to think about this. I hear so many Jewish people I know say they are fearful for the first time in their lives, they are thinking of removing a mezuzah, not wearing their Jewish star jewelry. We are seeing antisemitic actions and language everywhere we turn. It’s time to speak up.
I’ll speak for me. What does it mean to live a Jewish life? As long as I can remember, being Jewish has been a part of who I am. Growing up in Pittsburgh, I never thought much about it. But looking back, we belonged to a “Jewish” country club, and much of my social life revolved around activities at the Jewish Community Center. Being Jewish and a woman had restrictions I was not aware of at the time. As I grew up, I was introduced to youth group and a light bulb went off! A lifetime of commitment, giving back, and community service was born. The services, music, spirituality, and advocacy touched me deeply and still do. My faith and being Jewish are priorities in my life today. It’s time to speak up.
Being Jewish is complicated and means different things to different people. It is usually dependent on how you were raised and what you participated in and were exposed to. Were your parents both Jewish? Did you have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah ceremony? Did you live in a community where other Jews lived? Did you belong to a synagogue or youth group? Did you go to Jewish summer camp? Were your family members survivors of the Holocaust? Were you raised in a very observant environment or not? Many Jews do not understand the history of the Middle East, and are swayed by the media. Israel is not perfect and America is not perfect, but we must take a stand against terrorists and antisemitism. We know what can happen if we are silent. The remaining hostages held by Hamas in Gaza need to go home. It’s time to speak up.
Two Jewish phrases are ones that guide me always – in my professional, volunteer, and personal life. You know what they say, “Actions speak louder than words.” Chesed and Betzelem Elohim. Kindness and we are made in God’s image. WRJ always reminds us to take these phrases to heart. We need more kindness in the world; it's free and easy to do. Focus on kindness in 2024 and spread as much of it as you can. I think of Betzelem Elohim as act as if God is watching you. Are you proud of your actions? It’s time to speak up. WRJ has changed my life forever from the people I’ve met, to the places I’ve traveled, and to the friendships I’ve made, to the sisters who are there to support, celebrate, and cry with me. What WRJ has taught me is that legacy is the seed we plant that we may never get to see grow but we can never stop planting. When I look in my granddaughter’s eyes, I want to believe when they look back at this time in my life that they will be proud of what we did. As I look back and ahead, I know that it’s my actions and my heart that lead me to live “Jewishly”. WRJ and our advocacy work have always raised our voices and now is not the time to stop. It’s time to speak up.