Ever since the High Holiday season, it feels like antisemitism is coming from all sides. Logging on to social media can be anxiety-producing. Repeatedly seeing images of antisemitic flyers and signs that are popping up all over our country is exhausting. Educating friends, co-workers, even family members is important, but it can also start to feel like we are defining ourselves and discussing things only when something bad happens.
It’s also important to embrace Jewish joy.
Jewish joy is the things we love about being Jewish, the fun stuff, the inside jokes you might have with camp friends or synagogue buddies. The foods you see in the supermarket and smile to yourself because of the memories they bring. Especially in challenging times, remembering all of the things we love about being Jewish is crucial.
Earlier this year, Michael Twitty, author of “The Cooking Gene” and “Koshersoul,” tweeted 50 things he loved about being Jewish, urging us to remember we aren’t just our intergenerational traumas and news stories. I remembered his tweets recently, and was inspired to make my own list, some of which are things he also mentioned. (And if you haven’t read his books, especially “Koshersoul,” run – don’t walk – to the nearest bookstore and pick them up.)
These are some of the things I love about being Jewish. What about you?
Black and whites. The Mi Sheberach. The smell of freshly baked challah on Friday afternoons. Hamsa necklaces. Playing Jewish geography. The monthly Rosh Chodesh group my friends just formed. My son’s excitement over picking which kippah to wear every Friday. Quibbling over who makes better babka, Green’s or Zabar’s. Rainbow challah for Parashat Noach. Ben Yehuda Street. The perma-smell of oil in the house during Hanukkah. Debbie Friedman. The Maccabeats. Falafel. Bissli. Bamba. “Shalom Sesame” and “Rechov Sumsum.” Michael Aloni, Lior Raz… basically the entire cast of “Fauda.” The concept of teshuvah. Vashti, Lilith, Naamah. The experience of climbing Masada at sunrise, after waiting more than 15 years to do so. Michael Twitty’s writing. The endless debating about anything and everything. The way my son looks when he’s helping to lead the congregation in the song “Romemu” on Friday nights. Wearing Ariel Tidhar jewelry. The muscle memory of prayers that I haven’t said in 20-plus years instantly coming back to me. Matzah ball soup, with lots of salt and pepper. Kosher-for-Passover chocolate chip loaf from the bakery. Tsfat. The moment in the song “BaShana Haba’ah” where they sing “nodedot” and everyone shouts “YES THEY DO!” Hebrew name jewelry. The Israeli sandals, Naot. Amos Oz. Lavie Tidhar. The fact that my synagogue does proneg, snacks and wine before Friday night services. Saturday Kiddush lunches. Following @therealeli7designs on Instagram. Our insistence on remembering those who have passed. The upsherin. The word “balabusta.” Mimouna, the Moroccan Jewish festival. The concept of a bashert. “Sabbath Prayer” from “Fiddler.” The Shehecheyanu blessing. Giving tzedakah. The “Sammy the Spider” books about every Jewish holiday. Israeli dancing. Those Sunkist fruit gems that seem to only exist for the sole purpose of being thrown at bar mitzvahs. Never eating apples and honey except on Rosh Hashanah and then always wondering why I don’t do it more often. Rabbi Creditor’s song “Olam Chesed Yibaneh.” The increasing brightness of the menorah over the course of Hanukkah. Hakafot on Simchat Torah. Hava Nagila. Making s’mores on Lag B’Omer. The Jewish amulets that @RabbaeJewels makes. PJ Library. The increasing inclusion in so many synagogues (though we still have a long way to go). The custom of saying “May their memory be for a blessing.” The dark humor that has enabled us to survive. Sprinkling Yiddish words into conversation like “balagan,” “meshugganah” and “plotz.” Memories of playing Gaga during recess at day school. Trader Joe’s latkes. Bubbes who treat everyone like their own grandchildren. The experience of going to the Kotel, and upon putting my forehead to the wall, being overcome by tears. The joy and dancing when we sing Mizmor L’David on Friday nights. The way my rabbis and cantor have embraced my son. Women of the Wall. Chai Flicks. “Shtisel.” Kasha and bowties. Jewish sci-fi and fantasy. The embraced chaos of Purim. “Pizza in the Hut” during Sukkot. Changing the Torah covers to white for the High Holidays. Salted butter slathered thick onto matzah. Chinese food on Christmas. The sound of Hebrew school kids singing Debbie Friedman’s Havdalah blessing on Sundays. The way we show up for each other. The plethora of opinions and social justice activists that are helping to make the world a better place. Cherry hamantaschen. Intersectional Torah studies. Cheesecake on Shavuot and the late night study session. The beauty and sanctity of the mikvah. Letting Elijah in during the seder. “The Adventures of K’Tonton.” The calligraphy of a Torah. The feminist reconnecting with Kabbalah and other spiritual practices of Judaism. The reckoning of Elul. Seeing all the different menorahs people post on social media during Hanukkah. The endless kugel debate about sweet vs savory. Halva. The inclusivity of “rise in body or spirit” during services. What my cantor said after I explained that my son didn’t know the words to the songs and that it’s hard for him to sing sometimes because of his apraxia: “I think dancing and clapping is a beautiful expression of prayer.” The creative ways that some people style their headscarves. Seeing people walking to synagogue. The sound of little kids singing Jewish holiday songs. Nigguns (wordless songs) that bring you to tears. Red string bracelets you buy near the Kotel. Daf Yomi cycles. Hillel bagel brunches in college. More inclusion as to who can wear kippahs, tallits and tefillin. Headband Nation. All the great Jewish middle-grade and YA books being published. The blessing of the children. Lighting the candles on Friday night and feeling my shoulders drop after the stress of the week. Shalom Aleichem at the end of services on Friday night. Delivering mishloach manot to friends and neighbors on Purim.
Our joy, because joy is also a form of resistance.