Two Unrelated Stories About Being Part of the Jewish People

1) Friday Night at a Writing Retreat

He was a stranger, and yet, the minute I saw him, I felt compelled to greet him.

Good Shabbas, I said.

Good Shabbas, he responded.

Neither of us bothered to continue the conversation. We already understood each other.


I could write a post on our differences. I was wearing skinny jeans and a purse stuffed with muktzah.

Stock photo to represent me. I don’t really look like this (I also don’t typically pose like a flamingo with my hair in my face), but you get the point. Photo by Catalin Pop on Unsplash

He had peyes and a beard, and he was wearing a kippah and tzitzit visible from under his shirt.

Stock photo to represent him. He didn’t really look like this but you get the point. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

He ate nothing at the welcome reception while I gorged on the desserts. He wrote nothing during the group free-write exercise, preferring to reflect and absorb the creative energy through osmosis. I scribbled furiously.

But actually, we have a lot in common. We practice the same religion. We’re bound by the same commandments. Even if one or both of us doesn’t keep all of those commandments, we share that awareness of them. If I were to read a piece at the open mic containing references to Jewish practice or culture, with Hebrew or Yiddish vocabulary, he would understand it without explanation (and I would never give an explanation at an open mic), and vice versa. Both of us had decided that it was more desirable to spend Shabbat this week in the context of this writing retreat than in our usual context. Both of us had made compromises we might not ordinarily make in order to attend this writing retreat/workshop.

Really, the only difference between us was where we chose to draw the line between “What I will do” and “What I will not do”. But otherwise, we were really quite similar.

We shared an understanding. Photo by Zuzana Ruttkay on Unsplash

2) The Hostage Situation at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, TX

Thankfully, the synagogue attendees and Rabbi who were taken hostage in Colleyville, TX are now safe after being held hostage for hours.

But when I first heard the news before the hostages were rescued, it hit me harder than previous synagogue shootings. The fact that I even wrote the phrase “previous synagogue shootings” is its own level of bizarre. I cannot exactly explain this, as I have no geographic connection to Colleyville, TX. Maybe because I just wrote nonchalantly about antisemitic tropes in fictional book characters. Maybe because I got so sick of the role of being the supporting coral pillar of my Jewish community that I basically said fuck it and did something selfish for me this week; whereas the hostages were held for hours for the sole “crime” of Shabbat services.

I hate the idea of this being an unsafe place to go. Photo by cottonbro from Pexels


I will say that I sensed Jewish and interfaith communities coming together in solidarity and prayer. I’m on a lot of synagogue mailing lists (whenever I travel, I often contact a local synagogue to spend Shabbat and I’m lazy about deleting emails); every single one regardless of denomination or geography sent a message about this.

Still, it shouldn’t be horrific circumstances that bring us together.

It should be writing workshops.

(not necessarily scheduled on Shabbat. But you get the idea.)


  1. I like this response, JYP. Don’t you like being part of a group ( I won’t say tribe because…)? That insider feeling can be like a warm embrace or a smothering blanket depending upon how you feel about being a member of a particular group. Some feelings of belonging we can easily shed and others are more difficult to shrug off.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You’d think, right? But we spend so much time arguing with each other and only coming together when there is an existential threat. Not that we shouldn’t come together in the face of crisis, but it would be nice if we also didn’t spend the rest of the time arguing over the differences and separating ourselves.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I have more in common with you than I do with many Christians. Much of that is education and interest in similar things, but part of it is I don’t buy into the corruption of early Christianity from the second century forward.

        Here’s my take from a historical perspective as I know it. I’m sure you know the history, and what I’m talking about here, and I’ll probably get some things wrong.

        Paul set the stage for gentiles to appropriate Judaism, turn it into a faith, and then orthodox Christianity. The church fathers decided all beliefs outside of their corrupt orthodoxy was heretical, and with the help of Constantine making orthodox Christianity legal and paving the path for it to become the office faith, the church rulers went about trying to rid the church of heretics for over 1500 years, handing over thousands of innocent people to be murdered by the state because they didn’t have the right set of beliefs. By the 5th century CE, Jews were considered heretics, especially the Nazarenes who were pretty much wiped out by the 6th century CE (I might be off a century or so).

        I’m sure you know that before Christianity, pagans, and the cults they belonged to, didn’t care much about what people believed. All pagans had to do was participate in the local and state festivals and do the proper worship and sacrifices to keep the gods happy and insure the gods provided for the people. Judaism was similar, yet unique because they believed in one god, and would not worship other gods. Which often got them in trouble and blamed for everything bad that happened in the ancient world.

        As much as atheists and agnostics today try to separate themselves from Christianity, they have only shifted their faith to their current believes and value systems, and have the same hatred of people who don’t believe in the same things they do. Like the orthodox Christians of old, these people want to force non-believers and heretics into submission, or simply kill them. I believe attacks on synagogues and churches are a part of it.

        For as much progress that we’ve made over the centuries, some things never seem to change.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Some things never seem to change. And I don’t know that human nature on the whole really changes. I think human nature will generally stay about the same even as circumstances change (eg. the desire to look for some other group to blame when everything goes wrong.)

          But oddly, in spite of my pessimism on pretty much everything else, I actually refuse to believe that antisemitism is inevitable in the future.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. As Jews, we spend so much of our talking about the things that divide us, or even saying that “those other Jews” are “doing Judaism wrong,” but as soon as there’s an external threat, we come together. It’s a shame we can’t come together without the threats.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. After centuries of persecution, we still suffer synagogue shootings, cemetery violations, and hostage situations. It will continue, until we learn to forgo our differences and concentrate on protecting each other and the world.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. You’re so fortunate to get to be part of a group (for lack of a better vocabulary word right now) to feel solidarity with. I don’t really feel solidarity with any particular ethnic group I am descended from, and oddly enough, not even with my religious group. When something bad happens, to any group, I feel compassion in the sense that we are all human, but I don’t feel part of it. The only time I ever really felt personally part of a distant tragedy was when there was a mall shooting in another store of the chain I work at and an employee was killed. Is that my identity?? How sad is that??? This comment ends strangely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TBH, Hetty, this is something I’d never really considered until adulthood… like JYP, I also always identified with the Jewish people, and I never really thought about what it might be like to not be a part of a “group”, as you put it. It’s a huge part of my identity.


      Liked by 2 people

    • I should clarify – this one hit me harder for some reason, but I don’t know that I’d say that I felt a part of it. If anything, I felt more of a survivor’s guilt of sorts; I hadn’t even gone to Shabbat services that day (and I have no geographic connection to Colleyville, TX). Not that survivor’s guilt makes a ton of sense in this context either.

      Really, I think we should be moved by tragedy no matter how similar we are to the victims. And some tragedies are awful. I felt sick about the Walmart employee killed by stampeding Black Friday shoppers one year. The teen Burger King cashier who was just shot and killed during a robbery makes me sick. All she did was show up to work. A lot depends on what your job is, but I think most of us, we expect that going to work will be a safe, routine activity and that our employer will do a reasonable job of providing a safe work environment. The idea that a person could go to work at a job expected to be safe, and be killed by some crazy customer is utterly terrifying and awful.

      In some ways, I think it’s almost more important to feel the “we are all human” humanity vs. affinity/belonging with a particular group. I should feel something for the hostage situation at the synagogue (which thankfully, had a positive outcome). But I should also feel something for the Asian woman killed the same day in NYC because someone deliberately pushed her in front of a subway train (which is also senseless and awful)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I appreciate your honest and heartfelt writing. It is amazing how having similar backgrounds moves a relationship forward much faster. Great story! I am so saddened to see the ongoing attacks of terrorism and hate on people of faith. So glad the hostages survived the ordeal. Seems like we never learn from history and the atrocities of being right seem to be ongoing! Well done on your post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks. I think similar backgrounds advances a conversation/relationship up to a certain extent. There are many other aspects of compatibility (this goes for any type of relationship). And there are plenty of Jewish people I’ve met and really not connected with at all. In some cases, our common faith background was even a point of difference, because we related to it and observed it in such different ways.

      Ongoing acts of terrorism is generally distressing.

      Liked by 1 person

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