This past Sunday, which happened to be a picture of perfect weather following an abysmal and rainy Saturday, a couple of friends and I decided to head down to the beach in Port Elizabeth for an outing. Having been raised in a Jewish orthodox background, I can tell you that there are many, many things Jews have customs regarding. There are some things we’re eager about, and others which aren’t quite treated with the same enthusiasm. It once struck me, however, that one thing which Judaism (and many Jews by extension) is generally more ambivalent towards is the beach.
Looking at the group of individuals present at the beach, one thing which was special about them was that they were all convertees (individuals who were not born Jews but decided to become Jewish later on in life). In an era where many Jews-from-birth are quick to distance themselves from the many restrictions and complications of the Jewish way of life and even often deny their religion, it is quite a remarkable when an individual who has no obligation to chooses to embrace this way of life upon themselves.
“It was my husband who first wanted to convert. For him, it had been something he had wanted to do almost all his life. For him, it was the many rules and requirements and the many specifics which the religion dictated regarding one’s way of life that attracted him; he had always been someone who strived when surrounded by order and structure. I married him knowing that becoming Jewish and living a Jewish lifestyle would be the ultimate destination.
For me, I identify more with the deeper meanings of what we do, not the why’s and how’s and where’s. Many of the practices and customs, regardless of the level of involvement required, have a deeper beauty and I come to appreciate this more each and every day.”
“If my dad were here today, he would shout at me for wearing this dress. It’s far too short for a nice, religious Jewish girl to be wearing. But I’m just at the beach, so it’s fine.
Being Jewish is great. There are lot of rules, but we make the best of it. For example, we have to dress modestly and are supposed to not [engage in] certain behaviours… But these rules are there to make us into the best possible people we can be.
My favourite part of the week is Friday night, which is the start of Shabbat. In the afternoon, my dad always sits and sends Shabbat messages to his friends all over the world to wish them and say hi. At the time when it starts, we light the candles to show that it is now Shabbat. On Shabbat, we go to shul (synagogue) – us Jews spend a lot of time there – and eat really nice meals. We also dress nicely, stay away from technology and spend a lot of time reading, sleeping and spending time with each other.
I don’t think being Jewish is too hard. My dad learns a lot and tells me about the things I’m supposed to do. We do lots of fun stuff, and I really love being Jewish.”