From the Rabbi - May 2016 Print
There is a Yiddish saying that says, “It’s hard to be a Jew.”  Judaism's history is rich and proud but is sadly also filled with persecution, exile and struggle. 
 
And yet, not only have Jews stayed firm over the ages, despite the difficulties, but we are today seeing a flourishing of interest in what Judaism has to offer.  In particular the 21st Century has seen more and more who were born in another faith finding their spiritual home in Judaism. It has been my great honor to teach many Jews by Choice in my years as a rabbi and in doing so have learned much about my own Judaism.  In particular teaching Jews by Choice provides a fresh perspective on what is great about Judaism, because so much that I had previously taken for granted is new and valued by Jews by Choice.  
 
What have I learned? I have learned how Judaism's age makes it more relevant to our modern world and not less.  Jews have been participants in thousands of years of history from ancient Greece to modern Europe and America; from the ancient Near East to the Modern Middle East.  We have been influenced by and been influential in every form of spiritual, social, political and intellectual movement of every era of human history. The collected body of wisdom and experience of the Jewish people in their wanderings across the globe is extraordinary in its depth and breadth, dealing with every facet of human life – from birth to death, from joy to tragedy, from the sublime to the ridiculous.  The variety of Jewish experience and thought means that there is truly something for everyone and an aspect of Jewish life that relates to every conceivable question or yearning in our lives. 
 
Jews by Choice not only appreciate this in a way that can sometimes be forgotten by Jews by birth, but they also bring new perspective and new ideas that add to the rich diversity of Jewish tradition.  Jewish tradition is as varied and rich as it is because we have been willing and able to adapt to the changing tides of history and culture around us, while at the same time holding on to what is unique and special about Judaism.  Thus Maimonides embraced the concepts of Greek and Arabic philosophy and added invaluable insights to Jewish tradition and practice in the process; and thus we as American Jews have wholeheartedly embraced the ideals of liberty, freedom and democracy that make this country great.  In choosing Judaism, Jews by Choice contribute to bringing new perspectives into Jewish life while also approaching Jewish tradition with a level of passion and commitment that is inspiring.  
 
Indeed each one of us, whether we are born and raised Jewish, return to Judaism after a long absence, or choose Judaism on our own, brings new experiences and ideas to the enrich Jewish tradition.   The Ethics of the Fathers (Pirke Avot), asks – “Who is wise? One who learns from all people.”  We should likewise recognize how fortunate we are as a Jewish people to have so many people finding a spiritual home in Judaism, and who are willing and able to contribute their own understandings and insights to the rich tapestry of Jewish tradition and history.                 
                           Rabbi Ilan Emanuel