Being a Jew in a secular world is difficult; for many Jews, their religion is an important factor in their lives and I often personally feel as if a spotlight is waiting around every corner to highlight this particular part of my being. Trying to hold onto Orthodox practices in a secular world is even harder, for in many instances doing so further highlights one’s differences from those around them. Every single habit, practice and preference I hold onto seems to invite further strings of looks, questions and remarks from those around me, and while I generally enjoy the opportunity to educate others, I often just wish that people were more knowledgeable about each other’s practices.
In essence, this desire to educate is what fuelled my creation of this blog (well, education and the hope of sparing at least one other student like myself the avalanche of questions that inevitably awaits them in the non-Jewish world). In thinking about the various topics I would address and how I would go about addressing them, I was (not for the first time) faced with the reality that even I do not know everything about my religion. Of course, I can explain the rationale behind many practices, understand many of the differences in opinion and am often eager to engage in political discussion. Yet there are many things I understand but cannot explain, and of course, many things I simply do not understand. In some instances, political debate just scares me.
Of course, when I am in doubt, there are several resources I find helpful in helping me understand the things I do not already and make the ‘scary things’ slightly less scary. So, to give my readers slightly more faith in the content I share, here are some of my favourite Judaism-related resources:
1) Judaism for Dummies: second edition by Rabbi Ted Falconer and David Blatner. John Wiley & sons Inc: 2013
This is possibly one of my favourite Jewish books ever. It is quite extensive in the topics it addresses, covering nearly everything from circumcision and bar mitzvah to Jewish history and laws to Jewish names and foods. The book contains chapters addressing symbols and important numbers in the Jewish faith, the various sacred texts and pertinent histories.
In addition to their extensive content, Falconer and Blatner also manage to combine humour, fun facts and short, simple definitions with deeper meanings and more in-depth explanations to make their book accessible to any and every reader. For anyone wanting to learn the basics about Judaism as well as those individuals wanting a more in-depth and holistic look, I would recommend Judaism for Dummies.
2) Haaretz (at http://www.haaretz.com/)
Haaretz is an Israeli news institution, available in English and Hebrew, covering local and international political and social events. Israel is undoubtedly the centre of the Jewish world, and it is an important part of my life. Therefore, reading Israeli newspapers and being up-to-date with the current and political affairs in that area is critical for me to be able to share with others.
Content produced by Haaretz is considered significantly left wing. This means that it is supportive of peace negotiations in the Middle East and, for example, supports the release of controlled territories by the Israeli government as a tool for peace in the area. While I personally consider myself to be on the right of the political spectrum, I find Haaretz to be an accurate news source and its’ liberal viewpoints often offer me with alternative thoughts and ideas to consider. Of course, as an aspiring journalist, it is also important to strive for unbiased reporting. As such, it is important for me to include content in my blog which is true and accurate of both sides of Jewish and Israeli debate. To come from an incomplete and biased perspective would be counter-productive and a waste of readers’ time.
3) The Jerusalem Post (at www.jpost.com)
One of Israel’s several established newspapers, the Jerusalem Post provides its readers with centrist reporting (juxtaposed with Haaretz’s leftist views), while their online content includes a mixture of religious and current affairs from around the world (as opposed to Haaretz’s mostly political outlook).
Although its views can described best as centrist, it occasionally displays slight leanings towards the right of the Middle Eastern political spectrum. This speaks more to my personal beliefs than the content provided by Haaretz, and I find I quite enjoy updating myself about religious events around the world. I would recommend the Jerusalem Post to most individuals wanting unbiased reporting regarding Israel, and well-rounded coverage of international affairs.
4) Aish.com (at www.aish.com)
Aish.com is a website devoted to publishing a range of resources to educate, entertain and fulfil Jewish subscribers from around the world. Many of their articles look at practical topics such as breaking down Jewish laws and customs, and explaining those that are more obscure. The website also has sections focusing on the Jewish texts (the Old Testament among others), a section devoted to Holocaust and World War II content, an “Ask the Rabbi” section and endless educational resources specifically for children and teenagers. A weekly newsletter outlines the week’s events, and includes messages from various Rabbi’s and other important figures.
Over the past few years as I have become a regular Aish.com user, I have come to see it as the kosher food for my Jewish soul. For every question and doubt I have, I know I can find at least one resource from Aish.com addressing my qualms. On days when I question my political and religious beliefs, I turn to articles from inspirational leaders to refocus my vision on my path. And on days when I wish to tune into my heritage as a Jew, or help others learn about history, I turn to their Holocaust section to learn something new and feel connected to the past.
I truly would not be able to understand many things, never mind explain them to others, without the holistic knowledge and content support of Aish.com.