Can My Orthodox Neighbors Be Friends With Me If I’m Not Jewish?
Dear Jew in the City,
I’ve lived across the street from an Orthodox Jewish for family for 32 years. We have always gotten along and helped one another out. Can they be friends to anyone other than their religion?
We also are getting a lot of Syrian Jewish in our town (by the Jersey Shore) and they seem different. They seem not to look or acknowledge any of us. There seems to be a lack of respect and rudeness about them. Can you explain.
PS – I love the U tube videos
That’s nice to hear that you have a friendly relationship with your Orthodox neighbors. There’s no problem with an observant Jew being friends with people of other religions, but for practical reasons, because Jewish life is centered around kosher food, Sabbath and holiday observance, it might make it a bit more difficult for friendships between observant Jews and non-Jews to happen as often.
Since I grew up as a non-observant Jew and there were very few Jews in my town, most of my friends growing up were not Jewish and we were very close. As I got older and started becoming more observant, my social events started revolving around the synagogue and Sabbath meals. Now that I have a family, we spend most Sabbaths hanging out with our Orthodox friends who have kids for our kids to play with. My kids go to Jewish schools also, so if I become friends with the parents of their classmates, they also end up being observant Jews.
The whole kosher thing also makes friendships harder to form as an Orthodox Jew can never eat in a non-kosher home and can only go to kosher restaurants.
My non-Jewish friends from my childhood are still dear to my heart even though our lives have moved in different directions. But honestly, people usually end up moving away from childhood friends as they grow up even if they haven’t made such a drastic changes in lifestyles. Whenever I see these friends either at class reunions or on Facebook I still feel that I can relate to them.
And honestly, at the end of high school, as I was starting to take my religion more seriously, I found myself having more in common with my Christian friends who were spiritual people that believed in God than some of my Jewish friends, who although culturally similar to me, didn’t understand my need to connect to God. We also have a babysitter for our girls who is a sweet Catholic girl and has similar values, and I can talk on and on with her about ideas that we both believe in that a secular Jew might totally disagree with.
So in short – there’s no prohibition against friendship with non-Jews and Judaism teaches that Jews should be good to all people as everyone, Jew and gentile alike, is made in the image of God. However due to practical observances, it is a bit harder for these friendships to develop.
Also, another important thing to understand is that observant Jews, although we feel very American, still remain different than our non-Jewish neighbors. When a group of people is a minority in a larger culture, it’s very, very easy to assimilate, blend in and just be like everyone else. (That’s what has happened to most Jews in the world today.) So some of these laws of kosher and the Sabbath are there in part to help keep a certain separateness so that the Jewishness can be maintained. Not because there is any ill will towards other people but rather because it’s a matter of survival when a small group is living amongst a larger group.
In terms of the Syrian thing – I’m sorry that you’ve experienced rude and disrespectful behavior from the people you’ve interacted with. I don’t think that the interactions you’ve had speak for the whole community, and I think this actually comes down to more of a cultural phenomenon than a religious one. The Syrian Jewish community is extremely close knit, even, in some cases, when it comes to members of the Jewish community who are not Syrian.
Now, in their defense, I think we have to look at where they come from. Many are only in the U.S. for a couple generations. Before that, they were living in a Muslim country where their non-Jewish neighbors did not treat them very well and the guardedness you experienced likely developed as a protection mechanism. My grandfather was born and spent his childhood in Ukraine and experienced terrifying anti-Semitism there. He raised my mother to believe that every non-Jew, no matter how nice they seem, ultimately hates Jews. Why? Because when he was 12 years old, some of his non-Jewish neighbors lined up his family and tried to slaughter them all in a cruel game. My mother told my sisters and me his story and his belief and we rejected the idea. We were distant enough from the brutality he experienced to lend credence to it.
I’ll leave you with a story that is told about a great rabbi (one of the greatest in his generation) named Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky who lived in New York and died around 30 years ago. After his funeral, when his family was sitting shiva (the Jewish week of mourning), a prominent nun from the community came to the house of mourning to pay her respects. She said that this rabbi would pass her by on the street every day with a big smile and a friendly “hello” and it really meant so much to her. So although these rough exteriors unfortunately get created, this story about the rabbi and the nun is repeated because being a kind, decent person is how Jews should actually be conducting themselves.
I hope I’ve cleared some things up. Thanks for watching!
Allison (aka Jew in the City)