Authentic Self and the Assimilated Jew, Part 3: Secular/Assimilated Jew?

I put “Assimilated Jew” in the title of this series because “Authentic Self and the Assimilated Jew” had a nice aesthetically-pleasing alliteration to it. But honestly, I don’t self-identify as a secular Jew or as an assimilated Jew.


I don’t consider myself secular because in spite of my imperfect or non-observance of commandments, Judaism still has a significant impact on my life. I believe in G-d. My imperfect/non-observance of commandment is not a reflection of a belief that G-d does not exist. I think G-d exists, and while I do not know what I believe with respect to divine reward and punishment, I believe G-d prefers that I keep the commandments. The reason I don’t keep commandments is because the price of keeping them is more than I am willing to pay at present, come what may.

It’s not that I don’t believe in Torah or mitzvot (commandments). It’s that to be honest, there’s a limit to how much I’m willing to give up in order to keep mitzvot. Photo by cottonbro studio:

And I don’t consider myself a secular Jew because I’m making a lot of life choices based on Jewish observance – decisions like which community to live in, looking for a place that is within the eruv, looking for a home that is walking distance from the synagogue that I’d want to attend.

Honestly, I seriously question whether these decisions are worth it. Honestly, I would love to not have these constraints and be able to drive to shul, move out to a nice, reasonably-priced place where I want to live with at least two bedrooms, adopt, and finally start raising a Jewish child. For better or worse, I have chosen to stay married to a self-identified Shabbat-observant Jew, so I am stuck with these constraints impeding my life choices in a way that secular Jews I know are not. And yes, I frequently question whether or not this is a good decision, but that is not the point. The point is that Judaism, for better or worse, driving enough of my life choices such that in spite of my imperfect or even outright non-observance of Shabbat, I really don’t feel secular.

Side Note: Judaism As A Religion

Judaism isn’t just a religion. Many Jews, religious and secular Jews alike, feel a Jewish peoplehood connection, or a cultural connection with Jewish tradition, even if they don’t connect with the religious obligation element.

Stock photo model engaged in Jewish cultural traditions (there’s no religious obligation to decorate your door with a felt “Happy Hanukkah” sign or stand outside with a tray of jelly donuts. Photo by RODNAE Productions:

Strangely, the peoplehood connection doesn’t resonate so strongly for me. I feel connected to my family and local Jewish community, but oddly, I don’t feel much inherent connection to world Jewry at large. Israel has never felt like home to me; even after multiple trips to Israel, Israel still feels like a foreign country that is less foreign than other countries.

I don’t connect to Jewish cultural tradition as much as one might think. Neither my parents nor my grandparents really cooked traditional Ashkenazi Jewish dishes. The non-religious obligation family traditions that give me the warm fuzzies are ones that we invented relatively recently, not ones that were passed down from generations. And I come from a long line of proudly secular, proudly American Jews on both sides – there aren’t family traditions passed down through generations.

TL;DR – It’s not that I have no connection to Jewish peoplehood or Jewish cultural tradition. It’s more that primarily, I see Judaism as a religion. A religion I do not follow in full, but nonetheless, a religion.


I also don’t consider myself an assimilated Jew. To me, assimilated implies giving up part of your identity/culture/observance to become part of an outside majority community. I don’t consider myself assimilated because the motivation for me to give up observance wasn’t secular/non-Jewish society.

I stopped keeping Shabbat because the experience of keeping it sucked. I quit keeping Shabbat because I was too inept at time management to get everything done before candle lighting, and I was sick of the sense of failure I felt. I quit keeping Shabbat because I didn’t find it relaxing and restorative. It made me sick to keep sacrificing 1/7 of my life for an experience that felt tedious and pointless when I could be doing something more enjoyable,rewarding, or productive with that time.

In other words, I didn’t drop observance in order to assimilate and fit in to a larger secular society. I dropped observance because I had issues with the experience of being observant – issues that would have existed regardless of what everyone else was doing.

All or Nothing?

In the midst of all these jobs, I got married. When we were dating, Husband and I were on the same page with respect to Jewish observance. Husband still kept Shabbat when I decided to quit.

To his credit, Husband didn’t consider this a marriage dealbreaker. Still, Husband strongly encouraged me to keep as outwardly Shabbat-observant as possible, including telling my job I kept Shabbat and that I needed to leave early on Fridays. Once you give up a religious accommodation, Husband reasoned, you’ll never get it back if you want to keep Shabbat again.

He had a point, but I didn’t care for the all or nothing mentality it seemed to create. Was it really that one had to keep something perfectly in order to keep it at all?

Authentic Self?

The other part of this series title is “Authentic Self”. As mentioned in my previous posts in this series, it’s become a buzzword in certain workplaces. It makes sense in some ways. You shouldn’t have to not wear your hair in natural hairstyles, and you shouldn’t have to make up an easier-to-spell-and-pronounce name because your coworkers are unwilling to learn yours.

One reason I don’t like it is because, like most buzzwords, it takes on another meaning. In theory, “being your authentic self” at work sounds like a wonderfully inclusive concept. In practice, if you’re a white, cis, heterosexual male, no one cares about your authentic self or wants to hear about it in the workplace.

Another reason I didn’t like the concept is because it operated under the assumption that everyone wants to be their authentic self at work. Maybe my authentic self prefers boundaries between work and the rest of my life. Maybe I just didn’t want to share that much of my authentic self at work.

Self-portrait of me hiding behind an office plant instead of sharing my authentic self at work. Photo by Min An:

But I also wonder if another reason why I didn’t like the “authentic self at work” concept was because, after all the changes in Jewish observance and attitude towards Jewish observance over the years, I honestly didn’t know who my authentic self was anymore.

Self-portrait? Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


    • It’s funny because philosophically, I actually agree with Shabbat as a sign of belief that G-d created the world in six days (something I do not struggle to reconcile with evidence of evolution – it’s just not something that gives me a crisis of faith), and I genuinely enjoyed the communal experience. I’m also open to going back to keeping more of Shabbat someday as the experience improves post-COVID. I’ll probably never go back to keeping it 100% like I once did, but I could envision going back to keeping more of it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I get it. I do nto follow my Catholic faith as rigidly as I once did. I grew up in an area with 5 Catholic churches. I was asked not to come in to work with Ashes from Ash Wedneday. It was our family custom to wear them until the next day. Working in social services there was no space to be authenticity.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Good point about different workplaces. Certainly if you are working in a field that deals with providing critical services quickly, eg. social services, a hospital, the police, etc. I doubt the workplace is going to care about making “bring your authentic self” a big part of the culture. I work for companies whose goal is to sell products to consumers and make money; there is time to think about workplace culture

          Liked by 1 person

          • It was fine until we had a new supervisor from California. I have a very Central Maine surname that is fundamental to the history. It told him I will get more questions on Ash Wednesday not being annointed. He ruined our company by trying to make everyone beige. One day he tried to force me to attend a church service with my client, I refused because their belief system was the root of many of the client’s issues.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Your supervisor sounds awful. Except in cases where the institution is religious and one is paid to literally perform religious tasks (ie. a rabbi being hired to run religious services), I find it so hard to imagine the mindset of someone who thinks that forcing employees to attend religious services is acceptable or reasonable.

            Liked by 1 person

          • it’s sad because a lot of hospitals are run by religious groups. i hear you there. the hospital in Chicago got bought out more than once by different Catholic groups and the staff were not even allowed to wear nose rings nor show any visible tattoos.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Interesting. And that’s not even considering other issues that could come up at a religious hospital, like whether medically necessary abortions can be performed. Workplace rules about piercings and tattoos are annoying and dated, but probably not unique to Catholic hospitals


          • He was a nightmare. He ran our agency into the ground. Last year, they offered me his position. Most of our people would have come back if I had even though I am very rigid about regulations, but I am fair. The Agency was sold off. Yeah, that was out there having me attend services with my client, especially since 99% of the child’s issues were dogma related.

            Liked by 1 person

  1. Once in a conversation with co-workers I said I wasn’t much of a “church-goer,” and another guy said, “Yeah, but you’re a Christian, though. Right?” At that moment I realized that I was not–or at least not much of one–but I was very much a product of the Christian-based morality, etc., that defines the Western World, specifically North America, which is what my friend was getting at. Like, I don’t do human sacrifice or draw pentagrams with salt. It’s the reason St. Augustine is boring, as he is sort of preaching to the choir in a time-warp sort of way. So, I think I get what you’re saying. The term used by the Protestants I hung around with as a little kid used the term, “luke-warm Christian.” By the way, they also thought little kids should sing “Onward Christian Soldiers,” which, even then, though not exactly portending the Sixties, I thought kind of sinister.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think one difference between Judaism and Christianity is that Christianity is much more of a belief-oriented religion. It seems to me witnessing from the outside that one isn’t a Christian if you don’t believe in Christianity. However, you could be Jewish, not believe in or practice anything Jewish, and you’d still be considered Jewish.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I see what you mean. Just because I have an Italian surname, that doesn’t mean I can say “I’m an Italian.” (Although, well, people do.) It might be different if all Italian immigrant families shunned inter-marriage and stuck tightly to old-world customs and religious beliefs. But, this was actually true at one time in American history, only it all sort of wore off. Do you think most people think of Jewish people as part of a cultural group, first, regardless of their level of religiosity?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. As I said on a previous post, I haven’t really encountered “authentic self” in the workplace, but I work in a very small, old-fashioned and relatively frum workplace, so that may be why. I’ve encountered a lot about being your “authentic self” elsewhere, particularly in the autism community, where masking is seen as a uniformly bad thing.

    I’m not sure that it’s possible or desirable to be your authentic self all the time; too much of our sense of self is contingent on where we are or who we are with. I don’t think there’s a Platonic Ideal Me that I should be showing all the time. That said, it would probably be better if I was more myself in some situations, although the workplace isn’t that high on my list.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I question if we really want everyone’s authentic self in the workplace. Unshowered, spouting off offensive opinions, going on about all of one’s childhood traumas whilst picking one’s nose might be authentic, but who wants that in the workplace?

      Interesting point about the self being dependent on others. I think there’s a truth to this

      Liked by 1 person

    • In no particular order:
      1) Because we are commanded to.
      2) Because presumably there is a spiritual benefit to doing so.
      3) Because doing so maintains a connection to the past.
      4) Because doing so prevents assimilation.

      Those are the first answers that come to mind. It’s a worthwhile question


  3. I debated on whether to respond or not… not because I was going to say anything negative but because a comment would not do this topic justice… a good cup of coffee and a few hours would be a delight in discussing the roles of religion, our choices, our family, and the idea of our authentic self would make for a great afternoon conversation…. Enjoyed the post…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Jeshuaisten / Jeshuaists and commented:
    We are regularly asked whether not every Jew follows the Law.

    To this, we are always sad to report that there are quite a few secular Jews. Jews who, like many Christians, do not really believe in God and others who have renounced any belief in a divine being.

    But we should also be aware that among Jews there are also quite a few who believe in the One and Only True God of Israel and who do not approve of all that is happening in present-day Israel.

    Several Jews and Jeshuaists are therefore trying to spend their days outside Israel for the Most High and to express their faith in a dignified way, even if it is not always according to people’s expectations. But they realise that impression to their God is more important than impression to people.


  5. This is interesting. First, I was thinking that your Jewish identity is much like everyone’s identity, in that it is multifaceted and multi-layered, I’m sure. Also, I’m pretty sure it is possible to be your authentic self at work and everywhere else, while also enacting boundaries

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you’re right. This isn’t so different from any other aspect of identity that is more nuanced than the label given.

      It is definitely possible. I’ve worked at a bunch of companies aiming for trendy workplace cultures where I felt like I differed with my coworkers on where the boundary should be. Fortunately, Current Coworkers and I are a bit more aligned!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think the topic of how does what you believe and what you do and how that all intersects with daily life deserves a long post all of its own. It’s hard to be brief on this subject. We could probably write entire books on it. Even in my own case, I belong to a very traditional church and possess traditional beliefs, but I don’t live the traditional lifestyle at all, which seems to have resulted in my being cast off to the side (the kids thing plays a big role in this too).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh for sure! I know there are ways in which my belief system is inconsistent, and inconsistent with what I do. I’ve tried different ways to rationalize it for myself and ultimately, the answer is “I believe this, but I’m not willing to make the lifestyle changes to practice” and I just accept that.

      I’m so sorry that you’ve been cast off to the side because of your lifestyle. It would be nice if communities had a place for genuine believers / observers who don’t fit in socially. In my case, I felt like I had a place where I belonged, but as more of my peers had kids, and as the synagogues spent more energy caring about how to attract members with young children, I don’t feel at home as much.

      Liked by 1 person

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