It’s an ethnicity, a race, a religion, a culture, an identity. Being Jewish means something unique to each person you ask. Some of us are religious, speak Hebrew, and live in Israel. Some of us are secular, speak Spanish, and live in New Jersey.
The diversity of opinion in identification has allowed for a colorful Jewish tapestry to be woven throughout history. Here’s what ten historic Jewish figures have had to say about what their identity means to them:
Author, Professor, Activist, Nobel Laureate, Holocaust Survivor
“To be Jewish today is to recognize that every person is created in the image of God and that our purpose in living is to be a reminder of God.”1
“I like to think of us as a people, united not only by the ties of kinship and of a common history, but as sharing in the development of religious experience. For without that religious experience. … what would there have been to hold us together or to make us as a people worthy of perpetuation?”2
“If I were not a Jew (with the content I put into that word), I wouldn’t have been an artist, or I would be a different artist altogether.”3
Comic Book Writer
“To me you can wrap all of Judaism up in one sentence, and that is, ‘Do not do unto others…’ All I tried to do in my stories was show that there’s some innate goodness in the human condition. And there’s always going to be evil; we should always be fighting evil.” 4
Rachel “Ray” Frank
First Jewish woman to preach formally from a pulpit in the United States
“We are all Israelites, and anxious to help one another. Look up to our creed and live up to it. It is not necessary to build a magnificent synagogue at once; that can be done in time. The grandest temples we have ever had or the world has ever known were those which had the blue sky for a roof, and the grandest psalms ever sung were those rendered under the blue vaults of heaven…”5
“Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up until now? It is God who has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again. Who knows? It might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples learn good, and for that reason and only that reason do we suffer. We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English or representatives of any country for that matter. We will always remain Jews, but we want to, too.”6
Saul of Tarsus (a.k.a. The Apostle Paul)
First-Century Rabbi, Author of Several New Testament Books, Pharisee
“Then what’s the advantage of being a Jew? Is there any value in the ceremony of circumcision? Yes, there are great benefits! First of all, the Jews were entrusted with the whole revelation of God. True, some of them were unfaithful; but just because they were unfaithful, does that mean God will be unfaithful? Of course not! Even if everyone else is a liar, God is true.”7
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
“I am a judge born, raised, and proud of being a Jew. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of the Jewish tradition. I hope, in my years on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States, I will have the strength and courage to remain constant in the service of that demand.”8
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Former Member of the House of Lords of the United Kingdom, Former Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth
“I am proud to belong to the people Israel, whose name means ‘one who wrestles with God and with man and prevails.’ For though we have loved humanity, we have never stopped wrestling with it, challenging the idols of every age. And though we have loved God with an everlasting love, we have never stopped wrestling with Him nor He with us.”9
Musician, Nobel Laureate
“I’m a Jew. It touches my poetry, my life, in ways I can’t describe.”10
What does being Jewish mean to you? Tell us your take for a chance to be featured by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Richard N. Ostling, “Preparing for a year of change,” The Seattle Times, September 16, 2006, Preparing for a year of change.
- Gertrude Weil, “Talk given by Weil at Beth Or Temple Sisterhood Sabbath, Raleigh, NC,” Jewish Women’s Archive, May 12, 1944, Talk given by Weil at Beth Or Temple Sisterhood Sabbath, Raleigh, NC.
- Marc Chagall, Marc Chagall on Art and Culture (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003), 40.
- Arie Kaplan, “How the Jews Created the Comic Book Industry Part I: The Golden Age (1933-1955),” ReformJudaism.org, accessed April 10, 2023, How the Jews Created the Comic Book Industry Part I: The Golden Age (1933-1955).
- Ray Frank, “Transcript of ‘A Lay Sermon by a Young Lady’ by Ray Frank,” Jewish Women’s Archive, accessed April 13, 2023, Transcript of “A Lay Sermon by a Young Lady” by Ray Frank.
- Laura Tscherry, “Anne Frank: 10 beautiful quotes from The Diary of a Young Girl,” The Guardian, January 27, 2015, Anne Frank: 10 beautiful quotes from The Diary of a Young Girl.
- Romans 3:1-4a
- Reprinted from The New York Times, “What Being Jewish Means To Me,” American Jewish Committee, accessed April 12, 2023, Ruth Bader Ginsburg What Being Jewish Means to Me.
- The Rabbi Sacks Legacy, “Why I am a Jew,” RabbiSacks.org, accessed April 12, 2023, Why I am a Jew.
- Glenn Frankel, “DYLAN’S DOLDRUMS,” The Washington Post, September 9, 1987, Dylan’s Doldrums.