I’ll leave the age-old question of “Who is a Jew?” to those more qualified than I to settle. I’m instead referring to the reality that whether you live in Towson, go to college at Johns Hopkins, hang out at either of the JCCs in Owings Mills or Park Heights or shop for your groceries at Seven Mile Market, there is something that unites all of you, a universal something that cements your collective identity.
Identity can either be passive or active. You can be Jewish because you were born into a Jewish family, or you can do quintessentially “Jewish” things. Ours is a religion and culture that has always placed a premium on action, whether that be studying Torah, giving charity and performing other acts of kindness or simply engaging the outside world in an effort to support a family and better society. We’ve always held in high esteem those from the Tribe of Zebulun, as well as those from the Tribe of Issachar, the biblical pairing of those for whom intense study was their calling and those who were drawn into the realm of business. Each, in fact, supported the other.
You’ll find in the pages of this week’s Baltimore Jewish Times several stories each examining different facets of identity. Our international section features a piece on the ongoing struggle between Jewish students aligned with the Open Hillel movement and the leaders at Hillel International, who view the goings-on at Harvard University and Swarthmore College as fundamentally against the worldwide Jewish student body’s goal of promoting the State of Israel.
Where you, dear readers, stand on the question of how Hillel International funds the local groups that for many college students remain a central expression of their Jewish identity is beside the point. The current debate between the activists in suburban Philadelphia and Hillel’s board is quintessentially Jewish. Socially aware and politically conscious youth are taking a stand based on what they perceive to be Jewish principles. Similarly, the establishment that until now has funded their pursuits is rising up to oppose them based on a laudable — and necessary — desire to protect the Jewish right to live and thrive in the Holy Land. As the debate plays out, we’ll be there to report and analyze. I’ll leave it up to you to decide who’s right.
But this week’s greatest examination of identity is our “24 Hours” cover story, an exhaustive effort by our reporters that took them to unfamiliar places in the search for unfamiliar faces living “under the radar” in Jewish Baltimore. You’ll find the pictures and descriptions to be more than a snapshot. They’re windows into parts of people’s lives that we don’t see, the humdrummery of a living, breathing Judaism that makes us a community of people, not just a population of co-religionists.
At the end of the day, the fact that you’re here means that you’re “one of us.” I’d like to see more of you in our pages, more of your views in our opinion pieces. The beauty of Judaism is that wherever one may exist today on the spectrum of Jewish expression, growth and engagement are not merely good ideas, they’re mitzvahs.
Joshua Runyan is JT editor-in-chief