May 2015 – From Rabbi Siemers
Since coming to Bangor last July, I’ve received many requests from (non-Jewish) students at Husson University to help them with their papers about “other cultures”. They want to come in and interview me about Judaism and I always invite them in. (And as the word of my generosity with my time has spread, I received even more requests!) I welcome the opportunity to talk with them because we want good relationships with the surrounding community, but mostly because I find it’s a good discipline to regularly have to explain one’s point of view to people who have no previous knowledge or conceptions about Judaism. As both religious and Jewish life wane in America, we need all of the practice selling our way of life that we can get.
One of my favorite meetings was with a Korean exchange student, partially because she brought me a present of a cafeteria chocolate cookie wrapped in a napkin. But she also asked a question that no one else asked: After all of the usual inquiries about Kashrut, Shabbat and why so many Nobel Prize winners she asked, “Are you happy being Jewish?” What a wonderful question! And I took it as a reminder that as diligent as we have to be about telling people how to be Jewish, it is all the more critical that we tell why we should be Jewish.
It has occurred to me that we need to have these sorts of conversations among ourselves. So I am starting a monthly adult education conversation about what it means to be Jewish and why we should devote ourselves to living a Jewish life. It’s called Why Be Different?: An Introduction to Judaism. This will not be a text class, it will be a conversation and it will seek to explain what is different and valuable about Judaism in the most simple yet meaningful terms. It is aimed to Jews, but interested non-Jews will be welcome to attend. And even though it is a basic class, it is my hope that even advanced learners and seekers realize that there is much to gain in challenging ourselves to express our convictions succinctly. I hope you will consider coming to our first class on Tuesday May 19.
Rabbi Bill Siemers