In the shoes of others

It's not just a religion

- I'm Jewish, and I have had experiences where certain people, even just hearing that I'm Jewish would judge me on that, and automatically thinking that I must have certain views, and I must have been brought up a certain way... I've been on dates with people, and when I said I'm Jewish they leave or I don't hear from them again, I mean, it might not be because of that, but I kind of think it's been going well until that point, and I think a lot people don't understand that it's not just a religion, like as a way of life, it's a culture. It's just, you know, it's like any other religion, we just believe in something we believe in. And we have a right to believe in what we believe in. Obviously, a lot of things that go on in Israel aren't great and even I don't agree with everything, but I think that people are very quick to judge straight away like boycotting things with Israel, boycotting things if you're Jewish, and I think that is something that I would just encourage people to understand, a little bit more about that religion, that way of life, and what it's like to live in that country. And I think it made me really be aware of other religions. I've really wanted to understand other religions, because I know what it's like to have a religion, it's not easy at times. And there are definitely times where I wish I wasn't part of this religion, but it's part of me, and even though I'm not religious, I don't go to synagogue, I don't keep kosher, it's still part of my identity. I'm proud, I feel really scared to wear anything that shows I'm Jewish and I won't tell people I am, because of the experiences I've had, and also because of the experience that I know other people have had. But if people are willing to listen, and don't rush to attack me in any way, like physically or verbally, and actually, let me kind of discuss it with them, so they can understand that, I'm open to it!

- What's the most important part of your life that that's affected by having this religion?

- I think, sometimes not feeling safe to be part of that religion or to share that. I mean, the people that I have in my life are very accepting. And I think you learn very quickly who's going to accept you and who's not and then it's not worth having people like that in your life... my boyfriend is German, so that's kind of a laughing point for a lot of my friends (laughing), and, it's something that brings up a lot of conversations, which is nice. And I had a lot of people saying that they have never met someone who is Jewish before. And some people are kind of like « Oh, man, someone's Jewish! », like judging and other times like « Oh, that's interesting, tell me more! »... hum, does that answer your question?

- Yes, that's interesting and we don't hear that so easily! What do you enjoy most about having this religion?

- I think it's having something to believe in. And a community and kind of like, anywhere you go in the world, you know, that you're gonna be welcomed by the Jewish community. And the excitement of when I meet someone else who is Jewish, we're like « Oh that's exciting, tell me about your experience of life and how you grew up! ». And it's very family orientated, like every holiday, it's around the table with family, and alcohol and foods. And it's really not even a religious thing, it's about « Let's all just be together and celebrate life and celebrate having the opportunity to do this! ».

- Do you feel like Jewish families do that even more than other regions or people in general?

- I'm not sure, I mean, I know that some of my friends who have other religions do as well, but I think Judaism is very family... Friday night dinners was always a favorite because it wasn't even for the religious date, it was more just « Oh I can't wait to have this food and I can't wait that all my family is gonna be there! », and no matter what we're doing or how busy we are, we're just all there. And we just forget about whatever troubles we've had that week, and we just spend it with each other.

- That seems like a good thing! For what I've heard, it sounds like there's a lot of rules, like for instance, not mixing all cutlery, not using electricity during certain days or that kind of things. How do you feel about that?

- That's not something I've experienced, because I'm not that religious. I do have family in Israel who I've stayed with and yeah, it sounds really crazy but like, toilet paper is pre ripped, because you're not allowed to rip things on Shabbat. You can't turn lights on and off, everything's on a timer with all the foods cooked beforehand. It's really special because no one's allowed to be on their phones. So you play board games and you spend time together. In my family, they even said to me « If you want to be on your phone, you can, but just, you know, go to another room », but I didn't want to, I just wanted to really bring myself in that kind of atmosphere, so yeah, I think it's nice, I personally don't want to do that because I think that's quite extreme, but I think it's lovely that people can have those experiences and have something to follow.

- Okay! Why do you think there's this sort of discrimination thing against Jewish people, what do you think it's based on?

- I think, if you go way, way, way back in history, even before the Holocaust, there was anti semitism in Europe and Eastern Europe, my family fled from Russia when that happened and came here so thankfully, no one was involved in the Holocaust. But I don't know, I think people like to hate people. And I don't know if it's that people have just, you know, latched on to Judaism being one of the things that they hate, and you know, there's a lot of Islamophobia at the moment as well, so you know, I'm not saying that it's just Judaism and Jewish people that are discriminated against, but hum... I wish I knew, because then, you know, then we could try and stop it, it would be so much easier. Even sometimes certain jokes can hit a little bit close to home for me, I try not to say that because I think it's just a joke, but still, you know, it does kind of affect me a little bit. And when I see things in the news, it really upsets me. And I mean, I should do more. I should definitely do more to like, spread positivity.

- Okay! Let's say that someone you know recognizes being antisemitic, to whatever extent, and this person would ask you « Just help me not to feel this way, what did I got wrong? », what would you tell them?

- I think maybe just, you know, understanding why they feel that way, and maybe where it comes from? And then, I'm really open if anyone who ever has any questions about being Jewish, or what it's like, I'm so open to it and I would never say to someone « Oh what you've said there is antisemitic ». We're people, we're humans, we just have a different belief to some people. I think it's just maybe putting into perspective « Would you have this hatred towards this kind of person or this kind of person? So why is it that you have it towards my kind of people? ».

- Yeah, like, what's the difference?

- Yes, what's the difference between being Catholic or Christian or Jewish or Muslim or... you know? So yeah, I think putting things into perspective a little bit...

- Okay. Another question I have, back to what you were saying before, you used the word "extreme" regarding certain rules about your own religion, which, very few people do that, I guess, and I'm wondering what kind of rules do you find extreme, do you have more examples?

- "Extreme" sounds quite negative. I think it's not all negative extreme... just, you know, like having toilet paper pre ripped for you, you have to do it all in advance, and that is in a way a form of work, having to rip that toilet paper, and you're not going to do any kind of exercise or work or anything strenuous on Shabbat. I mean, that seems like crazy, but other people might view that as quite beautiful that, you know, you get to spend the time doing that beforehand... and... I don't know, I can't really think of anything else right now.

- That's a good point, yes! I had a conversation with a Jewish person who was (most certainly still is) circumcised for religious reasons, and it was quite painful to hear his experience, because basically, his whole sexual life was affected, meaning less pleasure, he couldn't come, so his wife was very frustrated as well and... I guess our sexual life is an important part of our life so, I'm wondering what's your view on such decisions?

- For most people who are born into Judaism, they're circumcised when they're a baby. So it doesn't affect them later on in life... did he get it done as an adult?

- It was an adult who has been circumcised as a baby actually... circumcision cuts a lot of nerve endings, so basically, you feel much less pleasure. In other cultures like in parts of Africa I believe, they practice clitoris excision which is kind of the equivalent to women... that's pretty much of a terrible practice that impacts a lot the entire lives of people afterwards...

- Yeah, I know a lot of people who think that that's wrong, and that it's kind of taking someone's decision away from them. For me, it's kind of just been, like, a way of life. I think... if I sit and think about it, yeah, it is kind of... it is quite... it's quite like... I want to be careful with my words, I don't want to say that it's wrong, or that it's disturbing, because it's not, I think it's more just like... if I wasn't Jewish, and when I when I hear that some cultures, they cut off the clitoris of women that makes me feel horrified. So I can imagine that other people who are looking at Judaism and thinking that men get circumcised would think the same thing. But I think for me, it's just been a normal part of life that I've never really thought about. I know that some of my friends who've married non Jewish men have a real problem with it, and they won't let their sons be circumcised. And that causes a problem with the family, because then, you know, the parents then feel like, well, this boy's not technically Jewish, if he's not had this done. But I kind of believe that it's a belief, you know, if you want to have a religious belief, it shouldn't be that you have to have a certain operation or something done to make you feel that way. So...

- Definitely...

- And I know that my boyfriend, we spoke about kids and he said « I won't have our kids being circumcised », not because he doesn't want them be any Jewish, he just said « I don't want my kids to be told that they have to be a certain way ». And when I hear his opinion, it makes me almost challenge my opinions and challenge what I've kind of just been brought up thinking, so... it's good asking, like being asked questions and being challenged, because it makes me think on what's just normal for me.

- It sounds like you are open to questioning and to reconsider things, that's good! Has it ever happened to you that someone tried to make you stop believing, or challenged your beliefs in a way like « Your religion isn't a thing and you shouldn't believe in it »? If yes, how that made you feel? If not, how would you feel if someone was to do so?

- Yes, I've had people tell me that I can't be Jewish if I don't do all the typical Jewish things like keep kosher and go to synagogue. That hurt me because it felt like I was being shut and misunderstood and no matter how much I tried to tell them that there's more to religion than just following certain "rules", I wasn't getting through to them. And they weren't even attempting to understand. That person has actually recently apologized for this and had tried really hard to understand me and how I identify with my Jewish upbringing, which I really appreciate.

- It's good to hear that this person apologized and tried to do better! Is there anything else you would like to add around the whole topic?

- I just think that is such a beautiful religion. And I guess every religion has its dark sides. But I think when you really understand the way of life, and it's such a, like a deep rooted kind of religion, just with all the history. And I can understand that my parents who are both Jewish, they're very passionate about being Jewish. And that comes from being discriminated against in history and the importance of kind of carrying this religion on... it's such a beautiful religion, like, I just really hope that more people would kind of show an interest in wanting to understand it...

- That's interesting! You said that you don't really go to synagogues; how do you feel if you visit a church or a mosque, like what's the feeling for you? How do you see these buildings, how do you feel inside them?

- I love them! I don't look at a church or a mosque and feel any kind of hatred or any negativity towards, I think that it's lovely that people with other religions have places that they can feel, you know, close to God or feel close to whatever they believe in, but also then be around other people who have the same beliefs. And I think it's a place that you can feel safe, because you know, that everyone there has the same thoughts and feelings and beliefs as you, and if they don't have the same kind of beliefs, at least, you know, they're there for a reason as well. I've been welcomed by people who are Catholic to church and it's been lovely to then be part of what's going on for them and I have some friends who are Muslim and sitting down with them and having discussions and realizing actually all religions are so similar! And it's crazy that the world is fighting over certain religions and that people are killing for certain religions where if you look all the prayer books, they pretty much follow the same lines.

- Yeah, I mean, Islam and Christianity are based on your book, so... As a non-religious person, I really like to visit these places, so if I go to a synagogue, will I be very welcome or people might be like « Hmm, you shouldn't really be there »?

- Hopefully you would be very welcomed! You will have to wear what we call a kippah...

- Yes!

- Oh, you know! So, as I guess a sign of respect. But no, hopefully, you'd be very welcomed, yeah!

- Okay! Anything else?

- No, thank you for listening, and yeah, it's great that you're, you know, asking these questions and taking time to understand!

- Well, I know more now! (We're laughing)

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