The word “Jew” and all its moods


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First off, I apologise profusely for the huge gap in updates. Towards the end of the last Jewish year, a multitude of things happened in my life (getting a new job, moving cities with my OH, a severe horse riding accident amongst other things) so things have been a tad crazy of late, leaving me with very little time to write blog posts. Please be assured that this blog remains very much active, but my updates from now on will be sporadic. Hopefully some of you are still interested in my Jewish ramblings!

Since my recent move to pastures new, I have been very unfortunate in overhearing several conversations using the word “Jew” in a derogatory way. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I haven’t heard the term being used in this way before. In fact, the word “Jew” in London had become nothing short of a playground insult for some people – even amongst full grown adults who should know better. Just twenty minutes ago, I overheard someone say to his friend, who had obviously just paid for his coffee but had not given him enough change, say “don’t try to Jew me”. In this context, it is an insult – and its implications are damaging. Whether these people are aware or not, using the word “Jew” in this context has strong antisemitic origins. Implying that we, as Jews, are out to short-change or rip off gentiles.

This is, of course, totally untrue. There are good and bad people everywhere and it makes no difference whatever what origins they have. But it still shocks me how much this turn of phrase and similar ones have taken hold and have now become favoured insults.

Even in a big city like London, which is well known for its cosmopolitan population, and its vast and colourful Jewish community (with 266,740 people listing their religion as Jewish in the capital alone), we are not immune to anti-Jewish sentiment. I was born and raised in London for the majority of my life, and it is only recently that I have begun to notice this shift in language. Why has this suddenly become okay? Is it simply because so-called “casual” antisemitism has now become more socially acceptable? Or is it simply because people do not think of the origins before opening their mouths?

Of course, we as Jews use the term interchangably throughout our lives. I am a Jew and I consider myself one. Being a Jew means it is who you are as a person, while being Jewish implies that you have a Jewish background, practicing or otherwise, or are culturally Jewish. At least to me, it does. It may of course mean something completely different to other Jews. I have always considered myself both a Jew and Jewish, regardless of my convert status.
We all know that as converts, we are considered a Jew as soon as we exit the mikvah. Though I have heard of some Jews considering themselves as Jewish, but not a Jew.

What does being a Jew mean to you? Do you consider yourself Jewish, a Jew, or both? I’d love to hear your views.

Also, a very belated Shana Tovah to all my fellow Jewish bloggers!

I think I may be shul shopping…

Contrary to popular belief, I have not fallen off the face of the planet nor have I abandoned my Judaism! I’m in the middle of graduation at the moment and so I’ve been swept away with other things, and updating this blog has become bottom of my list, as much as I love it. I apologise, but here’s an update for you. I’ll try to keep things short. Warning that it might be a bit angsty.

A lot of things have happened in the past couple of months, Jewishly speaking. I saw two of my friends gain their own conversions, both in the same month, and cried tears of happiness for both of them; I visited another community in Central London (and fell hopelessly in love with it… am even considering – shock horror – relocating there sooner or later!); I have completed my first year of teaching pre-cheder classes, and I have recently been asked to lead services at my shul, which I begin next month.

Also I have been realising over time that my own shul is leaving me with a lot to be desired, religiously speaking. After recently visiting a new community and knowing what really is out there – especially in terms of religious and spiritual fulfillment, I am having second thoughts about staying with my current congregation for the long haul, despite being totally devoted to it.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore my community. I love every single person who attends, I am a strong believer in the congregation and what it stands for, and my rabbi is simply incredible in every way possible. With a congregation of just 175, it has its moments of beautiful spirituality. At times I am swept away by how profound these can be. But I feel as though for me there is too much of an emphasis upon cultural Judaism, rather than religious observance, which is where I find my heart belongs to most.

Despite being a convert I am still very much culturally Jewish; this is true. I can eat bagels and lox and scatter Yiddish words among my vocab just like anyone else; but I often am hyper aware that being religiously observant at my shul is somewhat of an issue. The Reform synagogue I visited recently opened my eyes to what religious observance could really be, and that being a Jew who values freedom of choice does not necessarily mean I have to be lax with my observance just to “fit in” or not come across as though I am trying to “out-Jew” people (one of the most common protests I hear from others when they decide they want to up their observance in a more Liberal setting – one of which has never made sense to me).

I have always accepted that I have never been much of a Liberal in terms of observance. My philosophy is totally in line with Liberal thinking, but my hankering for a more religious way of life keeps overriding this desire. After I recently turned up expecting a Friday night service one evening, only to be confronted by yet another simcha instead, I decided to branch out and look at other congregations to attend during the one week a month that my shul does not run Friday night services.

Traitor? I feel like one. God knows that I’ve tried here. But I am not the only one currently feeling the same at my shul. It’s just not the right fit for me, long term. & I’m very sad about that, because this congregation has been my Jewish home for the past eighteen months. The congregation saw me through a conversion, several deaths and made me feel totally at home, and this is how I decide to repay them – by leaving?!

Am I crazy to even be considering this? Or am I just a bad person and therefore a bad Jew, period?

Teaching Jewishly

For a month now, I have been teaching a group of seven Jewish children ages 3-6 on Jewish tradition at my synagogue on Shabbat mornings, and I have been enjoying every minute of it. My first class went so unbelievably well. The children were well behaved, interested and very intelligent. They asked questions and engaged well with the activities I assigned them.

It’s amazing, really. Although I am a qualified nursery nurse, I haven’t taught in a classroom setting for 3 years, and teaching in a Jewish context is all so new to me, having only just become a Jew myself, under two months ago (Wow, is it only two months, it feels so much longer!).

What it’s really making me realise, though, is how truly passionate I am about Jewish learning, for people of all ages, and the fact I am a convert is not a barrier to teaching Jewishly, like I initially thought it might be. If anything, it is a huge bonus. What is even more amazing to me is that I, a humble convert very new to Jewish life, am being entrusted in the nurture and education of these tiny Jewish souls.

Part of it does sadden me. I often wonder what it would have been like to have been raised Jewish – as it would have been had my family not had converted away from Judaism in the late 1800s. I would have most definitely been raised Orthodox. I never had anything which these wonderful Jewish kids have – family Shabbat meals, finding the afikomen on Pesach, decorating a Sukkah instead of a Christmas tree, feeling excited for Chanukah gelt instead of tinsel and fairy lights. I have had to gain all these feelings and attachments as an adult.

& yet, learning to be Jewish as an adult, although challenging, still stands as one of the most wonderful things I have ever had the privilige to do. I’m still here, still living it and embracing Jewish learning every day of my life, and what a way to share my journey – teaching children the happiness and spiritual peace of being Jewish.

There was a time when I said I would have given anything to have been raised Jewish. Now, I’ve realised that both paths are just as wonderful, just as meaningful as the other.

I know, I said I was on a hiatus

But sometimes, I really miss blogging here.

Random thought, but it feels very, very weird to not be wearing my Magen David around my neck this morning. Weird, disorienting. Unnerving even. I almost don’t feel like myself.

I’ll explain. The chain on which my Magen David was on broke as I was getting dressed this morning. Cue panic. I’m not used to not wearing one. I have worn the same one constantly for two years, refusing to part with it even when visiting unsuspecting family members who were not yet aware of my impending conversion.

I wore it under my clothes in those days. Now, it is on show. There for the world to see just how proud I am to be part of the Jewish people.

My Magen David was significant to me, particularly after the Mikvah. When I exited the waters after my conversion, I put on my Magen David. I looked into the mirror, and no longer saw a conversion candidate staring back; I saw a Jew, putting on her Magen David. It was a frighteningly joyful, beautifully strange moment in my life.

Of course, I do not leave the house without something which remiss me of my Jewish identity. I have a beautiful wooden mezuzah keychain, which goes with me everywhere.

Whether you have a Jewish trinket which is significant or not though, I think there is only one thing which can truly sum up the love for Judaism you carry with you.

The contents of your heart.

Ideas above my station?

You know, I think Maariv prayers probably aren’t too difficult to consider taking up right now.

I’ve looked up the very latest times that the evening prayers can be recited on weekdays and it seems that there’s a pretty huge gulf. & seeing as Chabad are halacha obsessed, I trust this article to be correct.

Apparently it can be said until midnight, but if that time is missed, it can still be recited right up until dawn. Okay then?

I’m not the sort of person to take up mitzvot and not try my best to keep them, so this will be a pretty massive undertaking for me. My first worry is that I might come home from an occasional night out and be too tired to daven. Not that I don’t already daven Shacharit while half asleep sometimes, of course, so I guess it’s not much of an excuse.

Of course, there’s that other excuse of trying to daven when you’re staying at someone else’s house. My father knows I’m religious, but if he knew about my davening habits, I’m sure he’d think I’m some sort of fundie. He has surprised me in recent conversations with him though, so maybe I’m judging him a bit too harshly.

Occasionally, I do fail miserably when taking up new mitzvot, which is why I actually abandoned ritual handwashing before prayers because it was waking a certain member of my family up whenever they heard the sloshing of the water at 6am. When I’m living on my own (with heavier sleepers, I hope!) I may well consider taking it up again.

At the moment, I’m trying mitzvot on for size. Kind of like shopping for a new hat, and seeing what fits me. I’ve always lent on the traditional side of observant, and the beauty of being a Liberal is that I can see what fits without feeling obligated to.

I love the structure that regular prayer gives to my day. It’s having an effect on clearing my mind from the baggage that accumulates during the day, so I do think adding Maariv into the mix would be good for me.

There are some mitzvot which I completely feel I must do, such as wearing a tallis. Others, I’m not too fussed about. But they’re all worth considering in some way or another.

It’s over to you. Which mitzvot have you tried and failed to keep so far? Does this bother you, or do you see it as merely a development of your observance and trying to figure out what kind of a Jew you want to be?

My Observance in a Nutshell

I’m starting 2012 (or starting roughly one tenth through 5772, if you want to be Jewishly pedantic!) with a renewed sense of observance vigor, and it’s just occured to me that I haven’t yet listed exactly what mitzvot I am keeping up. This list is really for my own reference, but I thought I’d share it with you all. Motivation isn’t exactly my strong point right now. *Looks at university essays shiftily*

It’s odd that I’m yet to experience that post-conversion observance slump. I was really expecting to be so burnt out by the end of the process that I would fall off the derech for a couple of months, but that just hasn’t happened. Yet. Give it a couple more months, when I’m in the middle of exams.

What I’m Currently Observing:

Modah Ani (yes, Modah for women, Modeh for men, if you want to be traditionally accurate, though I seriously doubt God minds)
Tallit bracha
Headcovering for Shacharit
Basic Shacharit prayers (Mah Tovu, Shema, V’ahavta, Amidah, Aleinu) – can be truncated depending on my timeframe, I have university you know!)
Brachot for wine and bread (No matter my location – even though it is done via yeshiva-style speed mumbling, that’s not the point).
Shabbat (Going to shul, lighting candles on Shabbatot that I’m not there. TRYING to cut down on internet usage – though you all know I do post on Shabbat. Oops. It’s an ongoing observance goal of mine. Not sure if I will ever be able to observance Shabbat on even a Conservative level. It’s just not in me. I don’t work, that’s enough, right?)
Kashrut (I know some people will think me a complete cheat, but as a vegetarian I don’t touch meat as a rule. I’ve been one for six years, so I’m not about to start munching on dead animal just because some rabbis think I’m dodging “proper” Kashrut).
Tznius (My skirts are never shorter than below the knee as a rule, anyway. I’ll show my collarbones, but never cleavage and I stick to sleeves at the elbow and lower.)
Observance of all Holidays (Whether in Synagogue or not, this isn’t too difficult).
Regular Shammasing work for the synagogue
Teaching in the Cheder

What I Need to Work On:

Lashon Hara (I’ll admit it. I’m a terrible gossip and ranting is just about my favourite thing in the world, as you can observe from my blog.)
Daily Brachot (I forget to bless everyday stuff way too much. Not sure if brachot on everything is within my reach just yet).
Hebrew Study (Fine, I can read Hebrew well, but I’d LOVE to know some conversational stuff.)
Regular Torah Study (Big fat fail while I’m in my third year of my undergrad degree. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it)

Happy 2012!

Fireworks from my hometown of London, England

Happy (secular) new year to all my loyal commenters and lurkers! This year has been a tremendous rollercoaster for me, one which began and ended with me becoming Jewish, thus securing a lifelong goal. I could never have prepared myself for just how beautiful, how intricate the whole process would be. That is the very beauty of it.

If you’re becoming Jewish this year, or are even just considering doing so, mazel tov, and the best of luck to you in your endeavours. Being a Jew may be a struggle, but it is the most rewarding, most fulfilling decision a person can make. Remember that Jacob was not renamed Israel for no reason. The very name Israel, according to one translation, means “he who struggles with God”. Bear that in mind when you begin this journey. It is never plain sailing.

Embrace that struggle ahead of you, and do so with your whole heart.

All my love and blessings,


I really, really need a new siddur.

Can anyone help me with this? I currently own three siddurim – two of the very leftish, egalitarian type, and one strictly Orthodox. Both of them are at opposite ends of the scale – I’m definitely not Orthodox (and the language used in Artscroll publications leaves a LOT to be desired for me… seriously, Hashem in a siddur?!) and the other two are all very well and good, but aren’t really offering much for me right now. I guess I’m growing a little bored of them.

The one I’m currently using, which is probably one of the best home siddurim in print at the moment, is Al Mezuzot Beitecha by Chaim Stern. This was reccommended to me back when I was looking for something to have lying around the house for casual reference, and it is indeed very charming, with a huge array of brachot, prayers and readings. However, it’s not all that great in terms of offering prayers for Shacharit at home. My observance has increased in spades in the past year, and I’m now davening Shacharit every morning – something which I had started to do not long before I finished my conversion.

The other lefty one on my shelf is the standard one used at my shul, called Siddur Lev Chadashthe prayerbook currently used at all UK Liberal Judaism synagogues. I do love the gender-inclusive language and the modern readings, but I want something which is a little more centred on individual daily prayer, rather than just congregational stuff.

I think I’m now ready to move onto something a little more Conservative. A transliteration isn’t necessary as I can read Hebrew pretty well, but I would like an English translation alongside it if possible. Clean, uncluttered layout is absolutely necessary as I’m blind as a bat.

If anyone has any reccommendations, please let me know. I’m getting a little desperate here!


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