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Bridging the Separation Between Secular and Observant Jews in Israel

Hebrew version

At the recent Regional workshop for Israel, on “Jewish Unity,” I called a mealtime table on the topic “Our Relationship to Our Religion.” I currently define myself as an “observant” Jew, and the people who came were a mixture of “observant” and “secular.”

Here is how I explained why I wanted to meet on this topic: I see our common religious tradition as a great force for unity among Jews, but at least in Israel it often ends up dividing us instead. I cover my hair and wear skirts, and when many people look at me, they think they know something about my relationship to religion because of the way I dress (several people in the group nodded in agreement at that). I briefly recounted my history. I said that I grew up in an “actively assimilated” family in the United States in which both my parents were Jewish but we had no Jewish traditions whatsoever. Instead my parents joined the Unitarian Church, where I attended Sunday school and sang in the choir. I met actively identified Jews for the first time in college and then gradually became more and more interested in Judaism, until finally I ended up becoming observant and moving to Israel.

I said that, really, none of us can assume anything about each other’s relationship to religion by the way we look, even though distress patterns in Israeli society cause us to judge each other constantly on this (skirt or pants, head covering or not, length of skirt or sleeves, kippah* or lack of one, size and color of kepa, beard or not, and so on). This constant judging and labeling is oppressive and separates all of us from one another.

We then went around the table and each of us said something about his or her family history and relationship to religion. Several of the “secular” people were grandchildren of rabbis, one woman’s grandfather had founded a Reform temple in the United States, several people’s parents were anti-religious and socialist while the previous generation had been religious, and several of us (like me) had become more observant than our families of origin.

It is clearer to me than ever that every Jew has an important story to tell about his or her relationship to our religion, and that everyone, secular or “religious,” has lots of feelings about the religion just waiting to be discharged! I am eager for us in the Israeli Community to do more of this work. Several people told me that the topic table was important for them and that they want to continue at future workshops. We secular and religious Jews in RC can be pioneers in getting close by discharging what separates us from each other.

Esther Frumkin

Ma’aleh Adumim, Israel

(Present Time 183, April 2016)


* A kippah is a brimless cap, usually made of cloth, worn by Jews (more often males) to fulfill the customary requirement of orthodox halachic authorities that the head be covered at all times.


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00