I heard a lecturer once talk about the idea of MOT and MOB– Member of the Tribe and Member of the Book– essentially dividing Jewish identity into two categories. It’s never that simple by the way, but it states the issue well. Am I a Jew because my family was Jewish (MOT) or am I a Jew because I keep Kosher, walk to Shul on Shabbat, obey as many of the 613 mitzvot that I can remember, and can recite the whole Amidah (a very long prayer) from memory (MOB)? Is one better than the other? Can I claim to be “Jewier” than thou? Can you?
It’s certainly a common way to look at our community, and an interesting point that we’ve been debating since the parting of the Red Sea, but it misses one truly important factor. Our community is far more than just MOT’s and MOB’s, and trying to divide it into this one or that one does us all a great disservice. Like any truly vibrant community, homogeny is an illusion. It’s our diversity that makes us interesting and the blending of cultures and practices that keeps things interesting. We are Sephardic and Ashkenazi and Ethiopian. We come from Italy and Spain, Russia and Iran and Tucson, AZ (that would be yours truly) and each culture brings something unique to the celebration of Jewish identity.
Most importantly however, neither idea, MOT or MOB, take into account one of the largest segments of our Community (and I use Community with a capital C here): the wonderful and loving partners of other religious backgrounds who have chosen to marry into a Jewish family. Let’s forget for a moment where we come from, and choose to see and appreciate the choices we’ve made today. While much of our Jewish identity is wrapped up in where we come from, I think we do ourselves harm if we don’t also include where we are going. And where we are going will be defined by everyone who is making this journey with us, not just those of us who were born into the Jewish community, and it’s important that we not forget that.
JOI has spent years advocating for openness and inclusion in our communities. More and more we are seeing the results as organizations around the country are actively reaching out to these families and encouraging them to come and share those most Jewish of values: learning and being a part of something greater. What those open arms say more than anything else is, “You belong here. We value you and we believe there is something here that you will find valuable.”