DS is a 30-year-old gay man living in New York City. He’s white (Eastern European), college-educated, grew up in a mixed-religion working-class family, and is generally upwardly mobile and sometimes conflicted about that. He grew up in a Conservative egalitarian synagogue, got frustrated with Judaism in his teens and early 20s, and has in recent years been learning about various progressive approaches to Judaism (which make a lot more sense to him) and tentatively incorporating some observances into his life.

IB of JVoices: What does it mean to you to be Jewish?

DS: In many ways, I just think of it as a given–just something I was born into. I’ve varied a lot in terms of how observant I am, how connected I am to other Jews, how much I think about and/or incorporate elements of Judaism into my life, but whatever I’m doing, I’m still always Jewish.

Being Jewish has affected my life in many ways. For example, growing up in a mixed-religion household and as one of very few Jewish kids in a predominantly Catholic town has affected my ideas about individuality, sticking by one’s principles, and appreciating and working with other people. As another example, some of what I’ve learned about progressive, feminist, and LGBT-oriented approaches to Jewish community and learning have profoundly impacted what I conceive of as meaningful and engaged Jewish practice and thought, as well as my place within those various conversations.

But I don’t really think about being Jewish–more about what it means to bring the fact that I am Jewish into the many aspects of my life. It’s like a lens, maybe, that affects and informs all these other experiences.

IB: What makes you feel connected to other Jews?

DS: I most easily connect with other Jews who, like me, have grappled with feelings of both alienation from and connection to Judaism, who are interested in Judiasm and have some familiarity with Torah and various traditions but didn’t grow up in tight-knit Jewish communities.

Barring that comfort zone of people who I presume to be like me, I feel most connected to people who are open and inquisitive about Judaism, who are willing to explore and question different ideas and traditions, who are able to contextualize and share their knowledge in
ways that bring other people into the discussion. I feel connected with people who aren’t embarrassed to *have* in-depth, vulnerable, and/or intellectual discussions about Judaism–and I like some snarkiness as well!

Also, brisket and matzoh ball soup. And unselfconsciously saying kvetch and schlep and schmutz. Although those are highly optional.

IB: What makes you feel disconnected from other Jews?

DS: Socially and religiously, I most often feel disconnected from Jews who believe that their experience of Judaism is the only or the only correct form of Judaism. This can range from trivial (no, really, I can’t bond with you about Jewish summer camp) to not so trivial (let’s not even begin to count the reasons why I will never marry a nice Jewish girl and raise a large, observant Jewish family).

I want to say that politics around Israel and Palestine makes me feel disconnected from or at least wary of other Jews, but when I think about it, since I mostly meet people who are fairly progressive, most of the Jews I meet feel as upset and conflicted about it as I do. So that can be a source of additional connection with each other–albeit at the expense of connection with a larger mainstream Jewish community. And I often am afraid to have The Conversation About Israel and Palestine, in case it does prove to be a barrier between us–but for the most part, it hasn’t.

I often feel disconnected from larger Jewish life because I haven’t yet become a member of or fully participated in a synagogue. A lot of this is economics, although these days I have enough disposable income that it’s at least as much a matter of my priorities. I currently periodically attend services at an LGBT synagogue, so the gay thing isn’t an issue, but at other times I’ve felt awkwardly separate from the family-oriented focus of some of the synagogues I’ve attended.

IB: What kind of Jewish community do you have, and what kind of Jewish community do you desire?

DS: I have some friends who are Jewish, and who are often game for talking about things, celebrating holidays together, and sometimes going to services. I have non-Jewish friends who sometimes participate in aspects of Judaism that I want to share and who sometimes invite me to share in aspects of their religious practices in ways that feel mutually supportive.

I like my community, but I guess I wish it were larger, or that this little community was more connected to larger structures. Such as if my handful of Jewish friends and I were a friendship/study group in a larger synagogue that we all felt comfortable in and connected to, and had some similar structural support around our connections with the non-Jews who share in our varied religious lives. Something like that.