Written by Joe S. ‘16

Jewish community, religion and politics 5/28/14
MIT Hillel Birthright and ConnecTech trips meet up in Haifa.

Wednesday's activities are best described as a Jewish smorgasbord. The day started at the Technion, where we got to hang out with our friends on the MIT Birthright trip and tour the ecological gardens. After this, we saw the rest of campus which included visiting labs, stealing free food from the career fair, and listening to a couple of lecturers including a Professor of Jewish Studies, who studied Physics at the Technion as an undergraduate, and gave a talk about the relationship between science and the Talmud. Lastly, at night, we went to a cooperative bar- cooperative in the sense that ownership is divided equally between shareholders- and we heard a talk from an Israeli political activist.

Although we did more things on Monday, I highlighted the above specifically because they represent three parts of what I understand as “Jewish personhood”. For me the Jewish identity includes but is not limited to a sense of community, some form of a religious connection to Judaism, and a vested interest in Israeli politics. I saw these pillars embodied in the gardens, the Religious Professor’s lecture and the Israeli activists lecture respectively. Of course, for each individual, ones connection to any aspect of these categories of Jewish personhood may be strong, weak or even nonexistent. But in my opinion, this heterogeneity is what defines Jewish personhood and, on a personal level, strengthens my connection to Judaism. I suspect that this amalgam of activities throughout Monday was not by chance because this pattern would continue throughout the trip.

In a letter to his family during his college years, Yoni Netanyahu talks about, “something that sinks in and is forgotten, yet is there and endures”. For me, this is how I view my Jewish identity. It is something that is present, at times whether you want it to be or not. And because you have the freedom to change your level of commitment or your understanding of a particular part of your Jewish identity, it endures. And while this is all well and good, I shouldn’t forget to mention that a smorgasbord is my favorite type of meal. 

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