I never thought I’d work for a Jewish organization. Not that I was opposed to the idea, the thought just never crossed my mind. Growing up, I was always proud of my heritage (despite hating going to Hebrew school twice a week). My family celebrated the major holidays and went to synagogue occasionally. We often belonged to our local Jewish Community Center, if only just to use the gym and the pool during the summer.
When I was 16, a former director of mine told me about a brand new program called JCC Maccabi ArtsFest. I have always been passionate about singing and had heard of its sister program, JCC Maccabi Games. I went during the summer of 2006 and the following summer, never realizing that it was a part of something bigger, a movement of Jewish programming.
Fast forward to 2011: I was on the job hunt, searching every day on my various job sites, and I came across a posting for Digital Marketing Associate at JCC Association. I had never heard of JCC Association, but I was very familiar with JCCs. Better yet, the position seemed perfectly aligned with my skills from Professional Writing. Even BETTER yet, JCC Maccabi ArtsFest was one of their programs, and so I knew I could network with my former director (and the program’s founder) to ensure my cover letter made sense and got to the right people (oh networking). Lucky me (and lucky them), it seemed to be the right fit.
So how am I a “spokesperson” for the Jewish people? Of course, working at JCC Association does not mean that I know everything about Judaism, culturally or religiously, or about people’s individual practice choices. Just because I also identify myself as a part of the Jewish people, too, doesn’t give me that right.
I consider myself to be a cultural Jew, which means I choose to self-identify as Jewish, participate in some holidays, and partake in some very stereotypical Jewish behaviors (anyone have a bagel? I’m craving an everything bagel). I am knowledgable about religious practices from what I participated in as a child and from JCC Association, but for the most part, I don’t participate anymore. I don’t know that I think the Torah (aka “The Old Testament” or the big book of the Jewish religion) is necessarily factual, but was created to teach morality. A religious Jew is more likely to participate in all of the rituals, be less loose with the definition of “factual” (though some more modern religious Jews take it with a grain of salt).
The most extreme version of a religious Jews are Haredim (or you may know them as Hasidic Jews). They have completely rejected modern and secular culture, dress in “modest” fashion, and maintain gender separation. You can find sects of Haredim in Israel, New York City, and other large Jewish communities.
All of that being said, taking my position as a cultural Jew in mind, I’m often held accountable by friends and non-coworkers for knowing certain things, from dates of Passover (oh hey, that’s happening right now) as well as why some Jews do some things (why do we love bagels? Why don’t we eat bread or cookies during Passover?). I often act as the voice for JCC Association on social media, which is not the same as being a spokesperson for the Jewish people. We are a Jewish organization with a statement of principles that defines our goals and our role within Jewish peoplehood.
I have friends who are Jews and friends who aren’t, some who are aware of much more than I. I’m happy to answer any questions I can about Judaism (or tweet about #Jew), but I always try to qualify my non-factual answers with, “But this is just what I think and how I choose to practice. It is not representative of all sects of Jews.”
But sometimes, one answer is better than silence and assumptions. I may just be one person, but that doesn’t make my feelings and my opinions and my beliefs any less valid. Even if I am not religious, no matter what I believe about what the stories of the Torah actually mean, I am still a partaker of the group. I’m not afraid to offer my voice and my reason, as long as it’s taken as one of many.
I’m proud to be Jewish. I’m proud to come of a people who have survived again and again, with a rich cultural heritage (and delicious foods like kugel and rugelach). Just take my thoughts as one of a group, instead of the sole answers.