Op-Ed: Thou shall be the Jew you want to be


The following is the text of the winning entry in BBYO’s Oratory Contest. The winner was announced at BBYO’s International Convention 2015, which runs through Monday in Atlanta. The author addressed the prompt: “If you could modify any of the 10 Commandments, which would you choose and what would your modification be?”

NEW YORK (JTA) — If I were able to change one Commandment, it would be the Fourth Commandment. As it stands, it tells Jews to celebrate Shabbat because, if we don’t, it would lose its holiness. I would change this simply to say, “Be the Jew You Want to Be.”

As a Reform Jew, I do not observe the Sabbath in a traditional way, but this does not take away from the devotion I have to my religion. I pray, and, every day, I learn new Hebrew words. I attend temple. I practice Jewish values. And, I love doing it all. This is the kind of Jew I want to be – the kind that is passionate about Judaism. I have a connection with my faith, and that is the most amazing thing to me.

In my opinion, and what I’ve learned as a member of BBYO, is that Judaism means something different to everyone. I believe that we should not let the kind of Jew we think we should be get in the way of the kind of Jew we want to be.

Even more, what I find remarkable about Judaism is that it is more than just a religion – it’s a culture and lifestyle, and we’re able to find the part of it that resonates most closely with us. That can evolve over time. Using myself as an example, now that I embrace and practice Judaism in the way that works for me, I feel that everything I do is with passion and guided by my Jewish values – values that apply to all humanity.

No one likes to be commanded to do anything, and especially not teens (I speak from experience). When people are able to create and build their own Jewish identities and Jewish practice is when it becomes enmeshed in their daily lives. This is ultimately what allows Judaism, as a whole, to thrive.

Alyssa Karfinkel is a high school student in West Hempstead, N.Y., and a member of BBYO’s Big Apple Region.

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