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Being Jewish in a Non-Jewish Community

We were raised in a non-Jewish community.

Ellen writes: ​ We were raised in a non-Jewish community.

​That doesn’t mean we were raised without a Jewish community: my parents were involved in beginning two Reform temples, and we were never without a Reform place to worship, learn, and meet others.

But when I went to school, I was always one of the very few Jews in the school. So much so, that I can tell you exactly how many Jewish students there were in the schools I attended in Grade 8 (4) and Grade 9 (2).

This was a conscious decision by my parents, who wanted us to be able to engage with the world in which we live, and to get along with a wide variety of people.  

We’re once again at possibly the most difficult time of year to be Jewish in a non-Jewish world:  Chanukah has just passed, leaving us with our noses pressed up against the window, looking at the spectacle of Christmas.

Coincidence or not, two links to blogs made their way onto my monitor recently.

In Kveller’s There are No Other Jews Where We Live. Do We Leave?”( https://www.kveller.com/there-are-no-other-jews-where-we-live-do-we-leave/ ), the author considers leaving the neighbourhood and home they love to bring up their children nearer to other Jews.

In Hey Alma’s What It’s Like Being the Only Jew In Town, (https://www.heyalma.com/what-its-like-being-the-only-jew-in-town ) Sara Gibbs reflects on having grown up in literally the only Jewish family in a small town, with what she describes as an “awkward relationship with my Jewish identity”. In her college years, she discovered a small Jewish community on campus, and builds her identity and Jewish life around this.

Being in the minority worked well for us, I believe; as adults, all four of us sibs are committed and knowledgeable Jews. We engage with the world at large, secure in our identity.

That’s not to say that it was easy – from an early age I was exposed to mild stereotyping (an early memory of mine is the child across the street telling me that her parents told her that Jews smelled bad, so why didn’t I?), but no frightening anti-Semitism. My best friend during my Junior High years went to Catholic school. She couldn’t understand why it didn’t bother me that I would go to Purgatory when I died. I learned how to explain being Jewish to those who weren’t.

I went on to raise my family in a largely non-Jewish part of the city as well. As did three of my four siblings. It wasn’t always easy for them, and we weren’t always sure we’d made the right choice. But they both have their own Jewish identity and the ability to make their way in a largely non-Jewish world, as Jews. ​ At JewJu Box, we hope we are part of the solution to the challenge of being Jewish wherever you happen to be. We’d love to hear how we’re doing.