By David Portnoy, Emory '23
I’m not that Jewish. As a first generation American whose family came from the Soviet Union, I never went to Jewish day school, I don’t really know how to read, write, or speak in Hebrew, and I’m no expert on the culture either. But, I am the first Bar Mitzvah in my family for many generations. I went to Sunday school. And to a Jewish preschool for a few years of my life. My background has led me to ask a fairly introspective question for someone who only recently left his teenage years behind: Am I Jewish “enough” and more importantly, what defines “enough”?
Over this winter break, after an arduous semester of online learning, thirty-one members of the Greek community at Emory, including myself, set out to answer questions like these through a Jewish Learning Fellowship (JLF) titled “Life’s Big Questions.” We explored our personal relationship with machloket (disagreement, conflict) to understand our proclivity for the more constructive type. We examined the way friendship, honesty, and betrayal go hand in hand through conversation about our own experiences. We discussed the art of collaboration, the power of learning, and my favorite topic -- our own stories and origins.
Which brings me to this maxim: Say not: ‘when I shall have leisure I shall study;’ perhaps you will not have leisure (Pirkei Avot 2:4). At the end of the day, regardless of who we are, where we come from, or our internal motivations, each and every one of us logged onto Zoom each night to discuss our Judaism. We were not deterred by our physical distance, the pandemic, or the political events of our time. Instead, we came together to discuss these obstacles as a community.
I may not be that Jewish in my background and experiences. But, each time I joined JLF on Monday and Wednesday nights, the people on my screen made me feel like I was Jewish enough.