Being a Jew in the Bay Area

In Israel, you don’t have to think about being a Jew. It’s the default state. Others have to think about distinguishing themselves as not being Jews. For the first time in my life, I have to think about being a minority, and keeping my traditions while living in an apathetic nation.

OK, seriously, that’s hardly true. I mean, Palo Alto schools shut down for the high holidays. Still, it is a useful first approximation.

Diet: I never kept kosher in Israel. At 23yo, I became a vegetarian. This means that most kosher rules are irrelevant to me (still relevant: wine kashrut rules and dairy rules. Wine kashrut rules are (a) exotic (b) weird and (c) unless you demand a certificate, the fact that most wine is handled in an automated fashion should really be enough. Dairy: nobody sells camel or pork milk around here, as far as I know. I eat at non-kosher restaurants, which probably handle my food with non-kosher dishes, which makes my food technically non-kosher. The alternative would be all-home-cooking all the time, which is obviously unfeasible for a single guy. So I keep kosher as much as reasonable by default…

Shabbat: This post really started because I read the Shabbat Manifesto. Even the logo is an admission of failure: it shows Saturday as the 6th day of the week, using a Monday calendar. I usually set my preferences for a Sunday calendar whenever I can. The post is also infected by severe ludditeness: “avoid technology”. What’s technology? Why is a book not technological, but a car is? What about when books will all be e-books?  I prefer to interpret it as “be a day from which you do not gain material benefits.” So no working (as much as possible), no going to the gym but yes to easy hikes, drives to the library or enjoying a leisurely breakfast at IHOP. I also try (managed to do it once) to go to a synagogue on Saturday morning.

Holidays: I try to observe most holidays, but I’m not amazingly good at it. I managed to learn about the Talmud on Shavuot (not a very good lesson, but oh well), I observed Yom Kippur, I observed Passover and so on.

Community: This is where I managed to hit pay-dirt. I managed to join a number of Jewish young-adult organizations, among them JND (where I am now serving as communications officer).


4 Responses to Being a Jew in the Bay Area

  1. Shelley says:

    This reminds me of a very interesting conversation I had the other day with an Orthodox Jew visiting from New York. We were discussing the relative merits of having grown up in an Orthodox environment versus a near completely non-Jewish environment. One merit for the non-Jewish environment (which also holds largely true for the Bay Area) is that one is much more conscious of every decision/mitzvah/act to be Jewish. When I drive further to buy kosher meat, I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” I would argue there’s some benefit to that continuous reflection.

  2. Michelle says:

    Heya. Long time no see 🙂

    I’ve also found this to be a bit hard. I’m not religious in any way, shape or form, but some things I do want to do.

    The Jewish club on campus is a sad joke, so I don’t really get to hang with a lot of Jewish people. I have a few who invite me to Rosh Hashana and Passover, but that’s pretty much it. I celebrate Hanuka on my own, since I brought my menorah with me and the local supermarket sells menorah candles (as well as bamba, bisli, frozen burekasim, shkedei marak and other assorted imports!).

    But I completely missed Shavuot and Purim, since no one does anything here for them, and even the more ‘Israeli’ holidays (which I consider as part of my Jewish heritage) get no mention and I often go “Wait, I missed it? Damn…” when I read my facebook feed.

    So, yeah, I hear ya :-\

    • moshez says:

      As Shelley (above) said, it’s difficult — but sometime this difficulty makes being a Jew a more fulfilling choice 🙂

      I guess I’m a weird Israeli, because I am more religious than the average. My basic belief about Judaism is that every Jew must make his own decision as regarding to how Judaism is a part of his life. Some life changes require renegotiating that “deal with God”. I guess now is the time in your life to renegotiate that deal.

  3. Alex says:

    I very much relate to this: “My basic belief about Judaism is that every Jew must make his own decision as regarding to how Judaism is a part of his life. Some life changes require renegotiating that “deal with God”. I guess now is the time in your life to renegotiate that deal.”. Also, my attitude toward Shabbath is very similar to yours. Influenced by Mr Noam, I decided not to *work* on Shabbath. The motto is very simple: “אל תעבוד לפרנסתך בשבת”. This means that I try to even refrain from thinking about work-related things. Most of the time it works, although not always. In this respect I honestly think my attitude is more faithful to the original spirit of Judaism than the orthodox tradition — for example, when I used to see Sh.’s sister reading professional literature and studying for her exams on Shabbath, I would find it somewhat pathetic. Of course, Judaism is not about the original spirit, but rather about the tradition — but this is a whole separate discussion. Like you said, it is about your personal “deal”. And that doesn’t need to involve the rabbis.

    Oh, and JND seem very cool. Let my people go to San Francisco! Also, Sh. remarked the following: “See, San Francisco is a great place. Even Jews there make food that can be described in more than one sentence!”

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