By Adam Gitlin, Insight and Research Team
We’re marking World Religion Day and hopefully you’ve seen Claire Camara’s story yesterday.
I’m Adam, I work in the Insight and Research Team and I’m Jewish.
Being Jewish is actually much more than a religion or a faith, it’s really a cultural identity that means so many different things to the approximate 15 million Jews across the world (there really aren’t that many of us). At its heart is the religion, which is based on the belief in one G-d (we are not allowed to spell this word out in full) and the teachings of the Old Testament, which we call the Torah.
Alongside the Torah is an oral tradition of laws that has been passed down through the generations and has been codified by our Rabbis over the course of the last two millennia. From this we’ve a complete guide on how to live our lives, with laws covering every single aspect of life – literally every aspect of life, 24/7/365, from cradle to grave. It also gives us a vast ocean of books and knowledge, and a life-long task to learn all of the interpretations and laws, which is why Jews have traditionally been called The People of the Book.
The Jewish quest for knowledge and understanding almost seems to be baked into our DNA and has created a huge emphasis on education, studying and learning within Jewish communities throughout history.
In addition to the religion, much of what defines a Jew today is our collective and shared history, our shared experiences and our common ancestry.
Not all Jews practice the religion, but our collective experience continues to be a strong glue that binds us all together. So being Jewish, in addition to be being a religion and a faith, is about shared traditions. We have an incredibly strong community network, distinct Jewish foods and drinks, our own languages, an ancient and deep-rooted connection to the land of Israel, distinct styles of dress, distinct mannerisms and ways of speaking.
There’s also Jewish festivals, celebrations, tight family units, huge focus on the Jewish home, great emphasis on charity, caring and acts of kindness, the centrality of Jewish schools and educational establishments, the role of the synagogue, Jewish music, art, theatre and cinema, and much, much more.
What this means is that when two Jewish people meet, they may not know each other, but they automatically have so much in common and empathy with each other. Having said that, most Jews around the world have very few degrees of separation, so it’s likely that when two Jews meet each other anywhere in the world, the chances are that they’ll be related or, at the very least, know a lot of people in common.
Unfortunately, Jews are also united by a very strong and shared understanding of what antisemitism looks, feels and smells like – it is another part of our collective experience. Despite the unspeakable atrocities of the Holocaust, we are, unbelievably, once again seeing the rise of antisemitism across the world, including in the UK, and is making most Jewish communities feel very unsettled and uncomfortable.
This hate and evil is manifesting itself in an alarming rise in verbal and physical violence on the streets, online abuse and intimidation, plus institutional singling out of Jewish people and organisations, and is coming from across the entirety of the political spectrum. As we strive towards a more equal, inclusive and tolerant world, we need to recognise that hate and prejudice come in all forms and we have to stand up against it everywhere.
I’m very proud to be Jewish and very proud of my heritage and history. What led me to being Jewish was my mother, and that is the same for all Jews across the world. It’s hereditary, passing down through the maternal line. Therefore, anyone that can trace a Jewish lineage through their maternal line, however many generations back that goes, is recognised as being Jewish.
It’s great that our Co-op is so focused on inclusion and I feel a lot can be learnt from learning about other cultures and religions. My ask to everyone is where there are differences, please don’t feel awkward and embarrassed to ask me about it if you want to understand more, and please don’t make me feel awkward and embarrassed just because I don’t do and think exactly like you.
Thank you for reading my story.