“How do you Jew?” course explores differences between movements of Judaism

Although they were just attending the introduction class, several participants in Adath Israel’s adult education course April 16 gained new perspectives on themselves, their families and communities.

The class, led by Rabbi Daniel Grossman, is part of a series called “How do you Jew?” The course is open to the public. In upcoming sessions, Grossman plans to discuss how Judaism impacts people, their families and communities. He will also explore life cycle events and the similarities and differences among various movements of Judaism.

“Differences are not a matter of right and wrong. They’re a matter of how we choose to use our free will and choice,” Grossman said.

One participant, Daniel Brucker, said the talk assured him that although his background in Judaism was different than those of some other congregants, it was just as valid.

“Coming here, I feel as if I’ve always wanted to feel; that it doesn’t matter whether I can check off every single box on a certain list. I really, truly understand now and appreciate that it is genuine what I feel, how I fit in, the whole process of it,” he said.

The concept of free will and choice drove much of the discussion at the introduction class. Grossman led a conversation about how people experience their Jewish identities through choices they make regarding food, shelter and clothing.

Being less judgmental of one another’s choices is vital to building a greater sense of community. This comes from understanding that others are sincere in their observances, even if they choose to experience them differently, Grossman said.

A visible way to personalize one’s Jewish experience is through the selection of a yarmulke, the head covering worn by some Jewish people.

Grossman said he has worn the logos of all the Philadelphia sports teams on his yarmulke, switching between the Phillies, 76ers, Eagles and Flyers. He has seen other varieties with the names and logos of colleges and universities.

“It’s a way of saying ‘I choose to be Jewish and I choose to have multiple identifications,’” Grossman said.

The atmosphere at the introduction session was conversational. Grossman and a small group of participants sat around a table and shared reasons for their interest in the course. Grossman discussed concepts with a mixture of instruction, humor and personal anecdotes. Classes will continue in a similar format, and will incorporate some study of texts about topics such as weddings and Jewish traditions.

Another component of the course will be a discussion about the connections between Judaism and Lawrence Township.

“The overall purpose of this is not only to learn about Judaism, but it’s also to learn that if you’re in an environment that’s a supportive place, then it’s easier to feel good about your identity,” Grossman said after the class.

Brucker’s experience at Adath was a primary factor in his decision to move to Lawrence, he said. After feeling like an outsider at other synagogues, he remembers being immediately welcomed into the community at Adath.

“I made my mind up immediately that I should live here,” Brucker said. “It’s been one of the best and most important decisions that I’ve ever made.”

The topic of Judaism in Lawrence also includes the relationships between the synagogue and the community. The synagogue established the Adath Israel Humanitarian Award, which it has presented to recognize the philanthropic efforts of local people and organizations. Adath also participates in events with other local religious groups.

Grossman, who has lived in Lawrence with his family for 25 years, said that he enjoys the township’s diversity.

“We’ve done things with each of the clergy of Lawrence Township and it’s a good thing. It’s a balance that I like,” Grossman said after the class. “To me, one of the benefits of Lawrence Township is that it’s large enough to have the creativity that I like (and) it’s small enough for people to know each other.”

Attending events at the synagogue is a way to meet new people and build community, Grossman said. Although classes flow from one week to the next, each is taught as a complete unit, so that those who haven’t attended all classes can still participate. Each class usually has anywhere from 6–20 attendees.

Classes typically meet at Adath Israel on Tuesday evenings. A calendar of events is available online at adathisraelnj.org.