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How can I be a Jew among non-Jews?

How can I be a Jew among non-Jews?

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Question:

I'm the only Jew in my class and struggling with the balance of retaining my Jewish identity while having proper interaction with my peers. What's the correct approach to being Jewish in an atmosphere of non-Jews?

Response:

There's a lot to speak about, but for now, let's keep it seasonal.

We're just coming from Chanukah, and oil plays a big part in the Chanukah story. For that matter, it plays a big part in Judaism. What makes it so important?

Oil is a strange substance with two very opposite properties. On one hand, it always floats to the top. No matter how hard you try, it just won't mix with other liquids. Yet, at the same time, when oil goes somewhere, it goes all the way through. It's this sort of saturation that makes oil-based stains so tough to remove. So it both floats above and permeates within. Go figure!

Our nation is like oil. On one hand, we are quite different from those around us. We must treasure our distinct identity, being proud to look and act like Jews do. We are the ancient tribe that never assimilated, that's here today just as we were three and a half thousand years ago. And how do others view this? Look for yourself: Gentiles respect Jews who respect themselves--and are embarrassed of Jews who are embarrassed of themselves.

Yet at the same time, we mix freely among the peoples of the world. You'd think a tribe like ours would stick to Israel and parts of Brooklyn. But that just isn't so. For the Jews are "a light onto a nations." We are all ambassadors of G‑d sent here on a mission to bring holiness and goodness to all those around us. We are role models whose good deeds are to rub off upon others.

Be the best oil you can be and you'll go far.

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May Millar Edinburgh, Scotland June 1, 2009

Pro-Jewish supporters I am neither a Christian or Muslim, not exactly Jewish, however, a loyal supporter of Israel and the Jews and an admirer of their customs and traditions. I hope to come to Israel in the very near future to share in the amazing Jewish culture. I live in a so-called Christian country and am often berated by Christians, because of my religious and political beliefs. "I am a Buddhist/Spiritualist and lean towards "Judaism" and openly support the State of Israel as opposed to supporting the "Palestinians". Their appears to be more support for the Palestinians, as they believe they are "hard done to". So dear friend, be proud to be Jewish, as you are truly an "Ambassador of God".

Shalom Reply

Zusel be Shlomo Upstate, NY May 7, 2009

Non-Jew among Non-Jews. Thank you for being a friend of the Jwish people. You may find many Christians who think like you in the group Christians United for Israel. They are mostly Evangelicals Christians who are strong supporters of Isreal based on their understanding of their Christian faith.

They give generously to support Jewish activities in Israel and encourage moving to Israel with the Nefesh to Nefesh program.

They may not "do" your Jewish "things" but they will welcome your support and affection for Israel and the Jewish people.

Kol kavod ( great strength) to you. Reply

Maria Chicago, IL via skokiechabad.org May 7, 2009

Now I need advice! I have a similar problem, but different. Instead of "How can I be a Jew among non-Jews?", my problem is this: "How can I be a Non-Jew among non-Jews?" I am not Jewish, and my family and I are different than the standard non-Jews. We are Jewish supporters, and because my mother was born in a shtetl, we do things like this - we always have matza at our house, we don't usually eat meat and dairy products together, we talk often about Jewish life back in the "old days" - something I've never heard other non-Jews do. We don't like anti-Jewish comments and always voice our opinion against them. Because of all this we are sometimes ridiculed by our own people, and it doesn't bother us because we stand firm in what we do and believe in. Nevertheless, I don't know the best way to handle these people. Any advice? Reply

Elby Istanbul, Turkey May 6, 2009

share I'm the first Jew some people have met and often the first observant. The best way I have found is to be open to sharing and explaining. Some people are actually very curious and grateful to be able to learn. When I explain Jews don't actively seek converts, people feel comfortable. Of course, it's important to show respect to their traditions as well. Often I have to say I don't know the answer to a question, and it makes me study something I normally would not.
I don't know how correct this is, but sometimes with my close friends, I joke to lighten the mood because I have to constantly remind them of things I can't do. For example, I reverse the things I can't do because of my religion with those I fear. "No, I'm afraid to go to movies on Friday nights, and I can't go bungee jumping Sunday because I'm Jewish." I find using my sense of humor reminds them that I am someone they know and love, even when I am doing things they don't understand.
Be proud, be patient, and be yourself! Reply

May Millar Edinburgh, Scotland April 28, 2009

Pro-Jewish Dear Friends

I am neither a Christian or a Muslim, unfortunately, not Jewish, however, I am a loyal supporter of The Hebrew State of Israel and The IDF. Ever since my childhood I have had a great admiration for the Jews. They are honourable and valiant and have had to fight to regain and retain their "God" given land of Israel. I have been corresponding with the "Chabad.org.Ask the Rabbi" team for 8 months now and I think it is amazing. I am awaiting the necessary funds to come to Israel. So what is being a Jew among non-Jews? I am in a similar situation, living in a so-called "Christian" country. I am a Buddhist/Spiritualist and combine my personal philosophy with "Judaism", quite successfully, although some people do not approve of my support for the Israeli Jews they back the Palestinians. However, I have met quite a few people in Edinburgh and London, who support The Jewish State of Israel. "God" bless Israel and the IDF.

Shalom Reply

montanaloo February 12, 2009

i was the same! i went to a non Jewish school.. although there were other Jews, none of them were observant. i became observant during high school.

it is really something special to be a proud Jew among other people; non Jews even respect you for taking pride in your BEAUTIFUL heritage.

keep shining;) Reply

Maria Chicago, IL via skokiechabad.org February 6, 2009

Being Jewish among non-Jews Be proud of who you are. Never forget that. I am not Jewish; I am a part of the "goy-ish" society that has assimilated so much with its own self that it has turned into nothing. Honor your holy days, for ours have become commercialized and have lost their meaning. You did not mention any problems, but if anyone ever gives you any trouble because of your faith, they are not worthy to even breathe the air around you. Respect one another. Enjoy your youth. And someday, teach your children to be everything that you are. Reply

Kerry O'Donoghue Ennis, Ireland January 15, 2009

I agree Benjamin Many of the people don't want to hear arguments especially as here 90% are very pro-Palestinian because of the IRA history. They see the Israeli's as being like the British and the Irish themselves as being like the Palestinians.

I was in the Army, I did fight and when someone will not listen, you walk away and they call insults after you it is really hard not to go back and 'clock them one', because this is a very small place and we have already had clods of earth thrown at the house and boys running around our back garden and damaging the back shed. If you shout or try and tell them off because we are the outsiders it is us who get even more problems.

I will be really glad to leave here. It's not just us that has problems it's anyone who is not from Ennis, they don't like outsiders, even people from Dublin are not liked. Reply

Benjamin Weston, MA/USA January 14, 2009

RE: Kerry's post Kerry, I suggest thinking hard about the situation. Your son, a big guy who is proud of his heritage and his homeland, seems to be on the verge of fighting somebody if that person gives him lip about Israel.

Jews are special and distinct because we value ideas. As societies rise and fall, our knowledge and traditions carry our nation forward. If somebody tries to start a fight, and your son beats that person up, what good has that accomplished? That person’s mind is not changed, and now would think of Jews as a wrathful people. But if he engages that person in dialogue, he could potentially change that person’s mind if his argument is well prepared. But if that person will not be swayed, then no logic will change his mind, so why bother dealing with him? Your son should walk away from physical encounters unless forced to defend his or his loved ones’ bodies. Those who resort to violence first are insecure, because they cannot solve their problems with dialogue. Reply

Kerry O'Donoghue Ennis, Ireland January 12, 2009

Jewish in a non-Jewish world I agree with Zusel we can do it, stay Jewish when all around us are not. Our family are the only Jews in Ennis in Ireland, we are in transit here waiting to get to Yisrael so we tend to keep to ourselves as Jews are not popular here.

I do get worried about my son, he is nearly 18 and wants to go in the IDF but here nearly everyone is in support of the Palestinians, I am afraid what we call Charity Muggers, charity collectors from the Red Cross or other groups who want bank account details to get donations will stop him and ask for a donation and start spouting off in support of Palestine.

He is a Jew, he will not see anyone who is not a Jew speak against Eretz Yisrael and he is not a small lad. You understand my concern. How much should be said before we stop being silent? Reply

Zusel ben Shlomo Upstate NY January 9, 2009

Jewish in a non Jewish world Part 2. Don't skip on your Jewish knowledge. Know why you do what you do and be prepared to explain it in a respectful way. Today, Jews do not have to attack anyone's religious beliefs to defend our own.

Look for ways that you can be included, not ways to be rejected. It may be impossible for you to walk to school events on Friday night, but can you stay with a friend who is closer to the school? My great nephew, probably the only Jewish kid on his high school foot ball team in a small town in Missouri, was nicknamed "the hammer" and taught his teammates to play dradel as a modern day "Macabee."

Chazak, be strong. You will get the respect you deserve. Reply

Zusel ben Shlomo Upstate NY January 9, 2009

Jewish in a non Jewish world Part 1. What ever your present level of Jewish practice is, do it with integrity and commitment. You can go to the ball games, just stick to soda not hot dogs. My parents kept a kosher home in rural Ga in 1910. I taught my best friend in grammar school the Hebrew alphabet so we had a private code. My married daughter uses her ever present hat as a trade mark in her professional world.

My experience, and that of my now grown children, is that sincere religious non Jews will respect your commitment. Anti religious jerks may tease you about it. Make friends with the former and avoid the latter. Reply

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