“The New Jew” has become very personal for me. It came along at just the right time to highlight what I have and what I’ve lost, what being Jewish means and what being part of a Jewish community means. It is a love story with Judaism and Jewish community, complete with awkward beginnings, passionate disagreements, and a honeymoon.
The book begins with the death of author Sally Srok Friedes’ mother-in-law in present time. This was a poignant start, as I had just lost my mother when I began reading. The funeral and shiva (first week of mourning) descriptions truly depict Judaism and a Jewish community at its best. We are then taken back to the beginning of the author’s journey to becoming Jewish, back when becoming Jewish wasn’t a goal at all.
Time and again, the author tries to get more involved in learning about Judaism so that she doesn’t feel so lost and ignorant when around her husband’s family and folks at the synagogue, but each time, she is insulted, ostracized, and marginalized by rabbis who are opposed to interfaith marriage and see her marriage to husband Michael as a crime against Judaism. It is to her credit that she perseveres.
I found myself on an emotional rollercoaster with her, embarrassed when a rabbi uses his Rosh Hashanah sermon to rant about interfaith marriages and presenting Judaism as an exclusive by-invitation-only club rather than welcoming those who might add to the Jewish community. I was saddened by Michael’s distance from Judaism while he resists Sally’s embrace of it, even as I knew his was a completely normal reaction. I cheered when Sally finally found a rabbi—and a synagogue—who could truly appreciate not only who she was, but who she could become.
Everyone’s Jewish journey is different, and yet there are shared elements that remind us how we are all connected. In “The New Jew,” we can all find ourselves within these pages.
FTC Disclaimer: I did receive a copy of the book from the author, with the understanding that if I was willing and able to review it here, I would. If not, I wouldn’t. I received no other compensation and there was no expectation of the type of review (positive/negative).
First and foremost, I'm sorry to hear about the death of your mother. HaMakom y'rachem otach b'toch sh'ar aveilei Tzion viYerushalayim, May The Place comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. As someone who just lost her own mother in June, I regret having to welcome you to this sad club.
The whole issue of intermarriage is fraught with difficulties. How do we support conversion by those who've married into the Jewish family but haven't yet joined it? How do we welcome people while still maintaining appropriate distinctions between Jews and non-Jews? I don't have a clue.