Wednesday, January 19th | 17 Shevat 5782

February 28, 2011 1:26 pm

A Jew is a Jew!

avatar by Shmully Hecht

A friend of mine, a completely secular Jew, recently died after a long and brave struggle with cancer. Three weeks later, the non-Jewish father of a very close Jewish colleague also passed away. From these very sad events I nevertheless had the chance to witness remarkable affirmations of the transcendence of our people.

Lying in the hospital on what would turn out to be his deathbed, my friend Ben reminded his wife, who is not Jewish, to light a menorah for Chanukah, and though he did not know the proper prayer to instruct her, he asked her and their young daughter to say out loud the things for which they were most grateful as they lit the candles.

After my colleague Evan’s father died, Evan’s mother was asked if she would like to reserve a cemetery plot next to his. “No,” she explained turning down the chance to lie for eternity next to the man with whom she had lived and loved for decades, “I came into this world a Jew and I will leave as one.”

Both of these stories from most sincere moment of life, when it ends, show how we have survived as a people. Even an unaffiliated Jew who is intermarried and does not know the proper prayer before lighting the Channukiah, yearns to sanctify the miracle of survival. And even a woman who has intermarried  insists on being buried according to the rituals of our religion.

As an Orthodox rabbi I encourage the teaching and retention of prayers for the Jewish life cycle and counsel against intermarriage. Yet, I cannot help but see the power of our tradition to extend itself even without those ideal conditions.

Shmully Hecht is co-founder of Eliezer, the Jewish Society at Yale.
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