On a more personal level, I would describe my overall Jewish heritage as one of “traditional” Jewish values. That said, at a young age, I experienced significant diversity in my own family – a stepfather (Murray) who became a Jew by choice and my late stepmother of blessed memory (Julie) who also became a Jew by choice and supported my father (Jack) and our family in our Jewish journey. No two individuals in my life demonstrated such purity of their intentions, having chosen to become part of the Jewish people in order to raise their “adopted” children as Jews. And once they emerged from the mikveh, they became Jews in every way.
In my later years, I began to realize the immensity of my stepfather’s and stepmother’s sacrifices to enunciate the family importance of our culture and religion, and to throw their energy into giving my sisters and me a Jewish heritage. Today as I reflect, I also believe that they are among the very reasons that I am so committed to being Jewish and why I fell in love with being a Jew so fiercely. Tomorrow, my mother Bea and stepfather Murray celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Thank you, mom and dad, for these decades of love and for your lifetime of encouragement and support to live my life Jewishly, and to hopefully be a role model for acceptance of diversity in practicing our faith.
I believe it’s fair to say that historically there were limited opportunities for those with diverse backgrounds to embrace Jewish rituals and find communal engagement. Many were forced to decide between their love, their diversity and their faith. Thankfully, much has changed, though more change is still needed.
We always have a choice. We can react to our community’s shifting demography (race, gender, interfaith, multicultural, family structure) with fear, or we can react with love and curiosity all the while continuing our deep investment in the Jewish past, present, and future coupled with recognizing that passing on our heritage is really, really important. Staying and living Jewishly used to be almost automatic but is no longer. The world has changed. Today, living Jewishly is essentially a lifestyle choice.