The Jewish Writing Project and a Plateful of Gefilte Fish


I had a great phone conversation yesterday with Bruce Black, the editor of The Jewish Writing Project. Bruce is looking for people to write about what it means to them to be Jewish. Here’s how he described what he’s seeking:

We come to our writing without pre-conditions, seeking through words a path that will lead us to a deeper understanding of our connection to our heritage. When you participate in The Jewish Writing Project, it doesn’t matter if you’re born Jewish or if you converted to Judaism, if only one of your parents is Jewish or if neither parent is Jewish. All that matters is that you possess the desire to tell others about a particular experience that may have shaped your understanding of what it means to be a Jew, the willingness to explore a memory about being Jewish that holds a special place in your heart, or the wish to express your thoughts about how being Jewish has enriched your life (or made your life more difficult).

 There is clearly some overlap between the people I’m seeking to write for and the people Bruce wants. I want people from interfaith families, whether they are Jewish or not, to write about what it’s like to negotiate the lifecycle events, holidays, family and community relationships they encounter.

I articulated something to Bruce that I haven’t said out loud before, about letting people define themselves as Jews. It’s very easy to get hung up on how to do things right. Judaism is a religious system of doing rather than one of believing. Even Jewish culture separate from our religion is about doing. (I’m sounding like Gertrude Stein in The Making of Americans, aren’t I?)

Working in the Jewish community with its narrow self-image and wide actual diversity often means that I have to get over myself. I don’t get to tell people “What do you mean, you don’t like gefilte fish? It’s not Passover without gefilte fish!” or whatever other less silly example you can name. You can’t get all worked up about whether people are doing Judaism just like you are, or you’ll have apoplexy within a week, and all those nice people you want to welcome will back away slowly, hands outstretched, warding off the gefilte fish. You won’t save the Jewish people by being a jerk to individuals.

Listening to their stories and enjoying them is definitely the better way.

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