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Being Jewish: Why Bother?

June 7, 2021 | by Rabbi Nechemia Coopersmith

Antisemitism is forcing many young Jews to ask: Why is being Jewish worth it? And that's a good thing.

The recent surge in Jew-hatred across North America got me thinking of my high school chemistry class.

Growing up, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. It wasn't my overarching passion; more like a default position mainly to do with my father who was a prominent doctor. (And thank you for the overwhelming response to the tribute about my father; my family and I were moved beyond words.)

But there was one glaring problem: I hated all the science and math courses I was taking to cover my bases. Things came to a head with chemistry. Each class was torture; I dreaded the upcoming test. And no matter how hard I studied, I could not wrap my head around the material. The formulas were gibberish; they meant nothing to me. Finally, in the midst of an epic daydream that was distracting me from studying for the test, I had an epiphany: I could drop chemistry! I don't need to take this course; I have enough credits without it. I hate math and science, and I don't want to become a doctor!

And that's what I did. The next day I bid farewell to my scary chemistry teacher (he wasn't sad to see me go either) and experienced a sublime moment of freedom I have never forgotten. I'm sure this is how the Jews felt when they left Egypt.

What does any of this have to do with an increase in antisemitism?

Why is Being Jewish Worth It?

It's one thing to identify as Jew when there is no sacrifice involved and all it means is eating bagels and lox, going to shul a couple of times a year, and seeing Uncle Max at the family Passover Seder.

But what happens when it means taking the risk of getting beaten up at a kosher restaurant, being surrounded by a threatening mob, or becoming a target while attending services in shul?

That's when you start asking: what do I need this for? Why bother identifying as a Jew when the upside is so vastly outweighed by the downside?

I think that's a question many young Jews are asking themselves these days, and they may be tempted to make a similar decision I made with chemistry and just drop it. And who could blame them?

Antisemitism forces us to confront our Jewish identity and ask: Why is being Jewish worth it?

For thousands of years, most Jews knew the answer to this question. That's part of the reason why the Jewish people held on to their Judaism despite exile and unending persecution.

Today, the vast majority of Jews don't have a compelling answer to this question. And the fact that some are asking it for the first time presents a great opportunity. Perhaps they are now interested in hearing an answer.

Below you can watch Rabbi Jonathan Sacks' answer to this question. You can also click here to read 10 Things to Love about Being Jewish. But I'm far more interested in hearing what you think. The team wants to create a social media campaign on what you love about being Jewish.

Email in 40 words or less what you love about being Jewish, and send an accompanying photo. We hope to take these submissions and turn them into a social media campaign.

Because deepening our appreciation of Judaism is a crucial response to Jew-hatred.



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