Dear Gefilte: Can I Join a Synagogue If I'm a Bad Jew? – Kveller
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dear gefilte

Dear Gefilte: Can I Join a Synagogue If I’m a Bad Jew?

Dear Gefilte,

I have an odd relationship with my Jewish-ness. My formative years were an interfaith hodge-podge. I was never baptized (much to the dismay of my mother’s family) and I never had a bat mitzvah (to the chagrin of my father’s family). I always called myself a Jew, but never did much with it beyond embrace a label. 

Now I am embarking on a new chapter in my life as my husband and I try to have a family. It isn’t going as easily as planned, and we’re slowly beginning the process of testing for infertility. I am finding more and more that these big gray areas in life that cannot be analyzed, answered, and stored away are creeping into my life, and that the only real answer is that somehow it all makes sense in God’s plan… 

I need to reconnect with my Judaism and begin to develop a better conversation with God. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I feel right now the best benefit for me would be to find a synagogue and slowly make the rituals of our faith part of my daily life. Considering I am the product of an interfaith marriage, I never had a bat mitzvah, and I have yet to give up eating bacon, I am incredibly uncertain that I would even be counted as “Jewish.” Would the bad-Jew alarms go off as soon as I enter the sanctuary? Would they know I sometimes eat cheeseburgers? Considering where I’m coming from, how do I join a synagogue? What do I need to do so that I am counted as a Jew in the community?



READ: Dear Gefilte – Divorce Destroyed My Identity


Dear Seeking,

I dare you to set off those Bad-Jew alarms. I’m getting sick of pulling that switch all by myself. Here is just a smattering of Bad-Jew moves I have perpetrated. Most often in broad daylight, with no hallucinogenics or Manischewitz to blame.

Gefilte’s Randomly Selected and by No Means All-Inclusive Bad-Jew Moves:

1. Breaking my Yom Kippur fast on an almost yearly basis
2. Getting a tattoo
3. That matches my (goy) husband’s tattoo
4. Sneaking out of Hebrew school to get a ham and salami sandwich
5. With provolone
6. Serving my rabbi a dog poop sandwich, on a Kaiser roll, complete with garnish

And the list keeps growing. Please don’t make me give details about my bat mitzvah escapades in the phone booth, my lack of dues, or my family’s recent activities in the synagogue pool.

So, am I a “Bad Jew”? Heck yeah!

And while we’re at it, I’m also a bad Mormon, ventriloquist, sommelier, trombonist, and cook. Not to mention my laughable attempts at seamstressing or reading maps.

But here’s my question for you, Seeking. What makes anyone a good Jew?

A mouth that’s never uttered the words “milk” and “meat” in the same sentence?

A heart that’s endured so much suffering it can barely beat?

I actually feel more connected to my faith than ever before, and here’s why. I used to start every other prayer with a plea for forgiveness. As in, I’m sorry I said Your Name in vain. I’m sorry I was mean to my sister. I’m sorry I thought all those dirty things about my history teacher. And about my rabbi. And about Michael J. Fox.

It’s a good thing gefilte fish have 18 lives, because those were sorry days indeed. I spent years apologizing to God for being a bad person. It was torturous. I did not win friends or influence people.

READ: Find the Jewish in Whatever You Already Do

Seeking, I think what you are looking for is much more spiritual and honest. A place where you can be your true, treyf, and vulnerable self. And that is what faith is all about. I think you march into the synagogue with the brightest door and say, “Anyone want to throw a few dreidles around?” and see who steps up to the plate.

I don’t know what kind of temples are near you, but honestly any house of worship would be blessed to have you and your bacon breath because you are coming with an open heart. If you do hear alarms, that’s just a sign that:

A. Someone has burnt the hamantaschen
B. The tzedakah box is being pilfered
C. There is too much judgment in the air
D. All of the above

Whatever the cause, I want you to vacate the premises immediately. You don’t need to recite your aleph bet to prove your worth as a Jew or a human. And you don’t have to pay for a synagogue membership to start talking to God. Remember, She or He is everywhere.

That includes the swimming pool.

With love and schmaltz,


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