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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

January 15, 2016  RSS feed
Federation

Text: T T T

It’s my birthday! Now about that gift…

Emilie Socash

If you just read one of my columns this year, let it be this one. It’s perhaps the most important thing I will write all year.

On Jan. 26, I will turn 40. I’m hoping that your birthday gift to me is sharing this column, whether clipped out or shared via the Jewish Press website, with someone who might not read the paper, or may not have seen this column, with whom you think the following message might resonate.

I’ve had four good decades on this planet, a span of time chock-full of fun, love, adventure, heartbreak, learning, giving, and doing. I am approaching this milestone day in my life with pride.

But in those 40 years, I’ve also had a tremendously difficult time feeling like I was enough. At times, I questioned if I was smart enough, fit enough, strong enough. Much of the time I wondered if I was Jewish enough.

My upbringing was not devoid of Jewish culture, Jewish food, even Jewish guilt. My grandmother moved in with us when I was 3, and though my parents had suggested she move out when I went to school (meaning kindergarten), she stuck in until I went to school...graduate school.

But despite her presence, her stories of my family’s escape to Canada from the pogroms of Russia and of writing her name in Hebrew and swearing in Yiddish and serving matzo balls and latkes and pierogi, my upbringing did not include Jewish faith.

This year I celebrate my 13th year working in the Federation world, a professional bat mitzvah. And as I cross the finish line to marking my 40th year, I am throwing my arms wide to the idea that yes, I am Jewish enough.

A lot of times in our community, we talk about affiliation and engagement, but these are just ways in which we evaluate if someone, or several someones, are “enough.” We look to membership, to giving, to how one marries or raises their kids, or to attendance as a measure of how Jewish someone is. Yet is this really a good measure?

At Passover we sing Dayenu, which loosely translates to “it would have been enough,” or “it would suffice.” And as I think of my own reflection on what it means to be Jewish enough, and what yardstick we use for measuring the community, I have crafted the following Dayenu rework to attempt to capture what would be enough and what is enough.

It would be enough…

To bring your non-Jewish spouse to a Jewish event and feel welcomed.

To educate your kids about Jewish belief and culture in whatever way feels right to you.

To buy challah from Publix once a year, and only once a year.

To find connection with your mommy friends on Facebook’s “Jewish Moms of Tampa Bay.” (It exists – check it out!)

To know just enough Hebrew to get by.

To hope to get to Israel, one day, even if it scares you.

To be intrigued by Chabad’s programs, celebrate Rosh HaShanah at a Conservative synagogue, and hit the Reform temple for Sukkot.

To enjoy children’s services.

To look forward to your Jewish book club meeting more than anything all week.

To have a spiritual experience after winning mah jongg.

To keep kosher. Or vegetarian. Or pescatarian. Or not.

To form your own Shabbat dinner ritual, even if it’s at Red Robin.

To enjoy Manischevitz year-round.

To fail at making challah. To try again.

To make your own mezuzah at a paint-your-own pottery store. For your office.

To unapologetically declare yourself Jewish enough.

At a time when the world at large seems more and more fractured, there is simply no room within our Jewish community for anything other than enough.

I have a poster in my office that bears the quote, “A Jew is not asked to take a leap of faith. He is asked to take a leap of action.” No matter what your level of faith or how you express it, I would argue that any action in which you are stating, declaring, affirming, building, or just feeling your Jewish identity is enough.

By the time of this publication date, you’ve likely received a letter from me in which was enclosed a “2015 Year in Review” about the last year of Federation activities. (If you didn’t receive it, or have recycled it by now, you can see it at jewishpinellas.org.) As you read through it, is there anything there in which you might like to become involved? What are we not doing that we should be doing to help you feel Jewish enough? What is happening in the community that you’re involved with that we don’t know about?

Admittedly, eating challah once per year or saying “Shabbat Shalom” once in a while will not sustain us as a people. We are so very fortunate that our shared values are present in our everyday lives, reminding us of our Jewish way of living even when we’re not engaged in something traditionally Jewish. But we have to start somewhere, and stop defining the actions— however small—of our community members as “unengaged,” “unaffiliated,” or not enough.

If you’re reading this column, in this Jewish newspaper, you’re enough.

A special note to my new readers: As the new executive director of the Jewish Federation, I believe it is of utmost importance that we personally welcome all who are interested in being a part of the Jewish community. To that end, this column offers my personal perspectives as we build community together. We have a range of opportunities that we would welcome you to participate in, should you be interested.

Liked it? Loathed it? Want to react? I would welcome your feedback and can be reached at emilie@jewishpinellas.org.


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