Guest Column by Michelle Krebs Levy
“I’m such a bad Jew.”
Have you ever heard someone say this? Have you ever said this about yourself? Where did this guilt come from? Who planted the idea in our heads that we are “bad Jews”?! Whose idea of a “good Jew” are we comparing ourselves with anyway?
(And before you even think of suggesting that Jewish mothers had something to do with this, I’ll just stop you right there. Having recently added that title to my résumé, I take offense at that notion.)
Am I a bad Jew if I enjoy shrimp sometimes? And the occasional crab cake?
I also drive on Shabbat and use electricity and never put down my phone. Does that make me a bad Jew?
If I’m a married woman, but I don’t cover my hair, am I a bad Jew? I use birth control, too. Surely that tips the scale, right?
If you catch me on the wrong day, you’ll find me cursing like a sailor. I have gossiped on more than one occasion, and I can hold on to a grudge like it’s a prized possession. Now do you think I’m a bad Jew?
I should probably also mention: I’ve never killed anyone. I don’t worship idols, and I don’t have any tattoos. Also, I don’t have sex with animals.
I lead a heck of a seder, and I don’t eat chametz during Passover. I build a pretty awesome sukkah (although I don’t sleep in it). I give to charity. I volunteer in the community. I’ve spent my entire career in the nonprofit sector, trying to make my corner of the world a better place.
I truly and sincerely strive to be a kind, honest and generous person, and I spend every single day trying to raise my son with the same good values.
If I’m a good person, then aren’t I a good Jew?
I can’t count how many times someone has identified himself or herself to me as a “bad Jew.” Naturally, I then expect them to tell me that they have a meth lab in their garage. Or that they embezzle money from their company. Or at least that they cross-breed cattle or something.
But, no, the explanation that follows is always something less dramatic. “I never go to synagogue.” “I’m not going to a seder this year.” Or, my personal favorite, “I’m sorry, I just really love bacon.”
On the eve of this new year, it’s time for a change. This year (and every year henceforth), let’s all resolve to stop judging ourselves. There is no need to label anyone a good Jew or a bad Jew, a secular Jew or a cultural Jew, an observant Jew or a Jew of no religion. We’re just Jews. And it’s up to us to choose for ourselves how we want to be Jewish and how we want to do Jewish.
Michelle Krebs Levy is the founder and CEO of The Sixth Point, an independent, nondenominational Jewish community in Atlanta for adults in their 20s and 30s (ish).