Removing the adjectives and disclaimers from our Jewishness

Rachel LaVictoire, 18, is a recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University, where she is a freshman. She grew up in Atlanta, where she is an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center.  Rachel contributes weekly d’var Torah reflections, whichare posted on the Light’s website,

By Rachel LaVictoire

I’ve heard it said many times that today’s generation is far less religious than those that came before us. Grandparents and older rabbis often reminisce about the “olden days” when families would walk to shul for the holidays and always have Shabbat dinners together. Mothers would spend Fridays cooking and baking challah, and all the little boys wore kippahs. At our last family seder, my Bubbe told me about the process she used to have to go through to make gefilte fish. Now, a week before a big family gathering, you can go to Costco and buy a huge tub of it. My mom tells me about the emphasis that was put on High Holidays — they would all get new outfits just for those few days, stressing the importance.

I’ve found that among my friends there seems to be three types of Jews: the Jew-by-birth, the educated but distant Jew, and the passionate Jew. The “Jew-by-birth” title is fairly straightforward and I’m sure everyone has met one. He’s the one who will say he’s Jewish if you ask about his Goldberg-esque last name, but doesn’t necessarily volunteer his religious affiliation on his own. It’s possible he’s never been able to read Hebrew, never read Torah portions, and doesn’t belong to a synagogue. He’s Jewish because his family, or at least his mother, is Jewish and therefore he’s a member of the Tribe by default.

Then there’s the educated, but distant Jew. I would say I used to fall in this category. Here you have people who, either through Jewish day school or synagogue or family encounters know a lot about their Judaic history and tradition. They can tell you why we celebrate Passover, and the meanings of the objects on the Seder plate. They can recite Shabbat prayers when called upon and can often impress grandparents with at least a few sentences in Hebrew. Clearly, they’re knowledgeable about their faith background, but they may lack the passion. Whether it’s the consequence of resenting Hebrew homework and waking up early for bar or bat mitzvah services, or just a lack of an appetite for religious connection, they aren’t sure what they believe or if they believe anything at all. The knowledge is there, but not the faith.

The final one, the passionate Jew, is the rarer breed. The passionate Jew seeks out Judaism in his daily life — he communicates with G-d, studies Torah, and basis his decisions on the morals of Judaism. More likely than not, he has had some formal Jewish education, but I wouldn’t say it’s an absolute. The idea is, though, that he is a practicing and devoted Jew.


What I find to be most interesting about these three different Jews is how they think of themselves, and how the rest of the Jewish community tends to categorize them. I’m sure you’ve heard someone described as at least one of the following: a good Jew, a bad Jew, a non-practicing Jew, a religious Jew, or a traditional Jew. But what do any of those mean?

In this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha, G-d calls down to Abram. G-d said, “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. And I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you, and I will aggrandize your name, and you shall be a blessing” (Genesis 12:1-2). This was the first commandment given by G-d to Abram, who became the very first Jew.

Prior to this encounter, the only information the Torah gives about Abram is his lineage and his marriage to Sarah. Only those who read the Midrash know that Abram was devoted to G-d early in his life. At a young age, it is said, Abram was punished by the king of his region for refusing to denounce his belief in G-d. After surviving the punishment, he devoted his time to transforming many people into believers.

Why would the Torah fail to include this biographical story of Abram? Clearly, he is a righteous man, but why is this part of his life left out? Consider the following: had we known that Abram was such a pristine follower and defender of G-d, would that then mean that G-d only revealed Himself to those leading similar lives?

In more simple terms, had I known that Abram became the first Jew only after risking his life for G-d and devoting his life to spreading His word, I may begin to think that only such men are worthy of this Jewish title. Therefore, I may begin to doubt G-d’s love for me, knowing I have never risked my life on His behalf. 

Leaving out Abram’s honorable beginnings makes him more relatable. G-d chose Abram, the husband of Sarah and the son of Terah, and told him, “behold My covenant is with you, and you shall become the father of a multitude of nations… And I will establish my covenant between me and between you and between your seed after you throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant, to be to you for a God and to your seed after you(Genesis 17:4-7).”

Now, we, too, are Jewish. There is no good Jew, bad Jew, non-practicing Jew, religious Jew, or traditional Jew — we are all Jewish. We are the descendants of Abram; we were chosen by G-d. There is no less religious or more religious. It matters not how you practice or what you know. It matters that you are Jewish, that I am Jewish and that we are proud to say it.

Rachel LaVictoire, 18, is a recipient of the prestigious Nemerov Writing and Thomas H. Elliott Merit scholarships at Washington University, where she is a freshman. She grew up in Atlanta, where she is an active member of Temple Emanu-El and the Marcus Jewish Community Center.