The Duality of Being a Good Jew

My most recent zine, “What Does It Mean to Be A Good Jew?” captures moments that imparted power and frustration to my Jewish identity. These include: bawling as I stood in front of “Jacob Wrestling with the Angel” at the Chagall Museum in Nice, France; helping elderly rabbis use video conferencing programs in order to chat across the country about faith and technology; sitting on the train with my father as he informed me that while he didn’t believe in God, he did, in the words of his mother, “believe in the people.” On the cover, an image of a hairy leg and foot allows visual questions to accompany the title. Although hands, eyes, and mouths are body parts most commonly associated with holiness, I ask: why are feet disregarded as divine, when they are the midpoint for the body between heaven and earth? You can read the rest here.

A six-page zine cannot encompass the dual processes I've encountered over the past five years, as I began to examine my Jewishness through a loving yet critical gaze. The question that opens the cover of my zine“What does it mean to be a good Jew?”remains embedded in each hand-drawn memory and the quietest moments of my day. The question emerges when I wake up and decide to scroll absently through my phone, trying to accustom my eyes to light, or when I wake up and whisper, eyes still closed, the hoarse words of the Sh’ma as my sensory entry into morning. The question emerges on Friday nights, when Shabbat provides two alluring choices: Should I invite friends of different faith traditions for a Shabbat dinner imbued with warmth and familiarity? Or should I attend services at the local temple, in which unfamiliar melodies and faces invoke a sense of isolation rather than comfort? When I shop for vegetables at the weekly farmers market on Shabbat after services, I do so with the knowledge that the mundanity of commerce does not outweigh the holiness I find in connecting to the earth through making ethical consumer choices and supporting local farmers. 

The unification of practice and experience in my Jewish world remains elusive at times. Even the zine itself, a folded booklet photocopied then scanned, drawn with care but no particular piety, can be a held as a banal encapsulation of holy experiences. And yet I ask myself, what could be more sacred to Jewish life than a meaningful encounter with text?