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

Hi Hellen-

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!

Sincerely Yours,
Allison (aka Jew in the City)

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  • Avatar photo Kim says on April 10, 2010

    I was trying to figure out how to ask this exact question! When I was 11 years old, I met some Hasidic Jews in Miami, FL. They avoided everyone and only spoke Yiddish, and I thought it was because they were not allowed for religious reasons to be friends with
    The Jewish religion and people are so close to my heart. I used to think of converting to Orthodox Judaism, but decided to stay a Christian. I thought it would mean more to love Jewish people and religion as myself. If I was one of them I would not have the same appreciation and it would be easier to take things for granted. Also, I couldn’t take my only friend with me to Judaism. Thank you so much for posting this!

    PS I love your Youtube videos too! 😀

  • Avatar photo Shimon Baum says on July 13, 2010

    Don’t worry as an orthodox Jew I can tell you that many of the orthodox Jews I know are just as unfriendly to their fellow Jews.

    • Avatar photo Allison says on July 13, 2010

      Unfortunately there are religious Jews out there, Shimon, who don’t live according to religious Judaism, but there are plenty of great ones out there too, and the more we see people acting the wrong way the more we should be inspired to be even better ourselves.

  • Avatar photo Yaakov Cohn says on January 31, 2011

    Dear Kim,
    I was so fascinated that you once considered converting, but realized that you could best express your love for our people by remaining true to yourself. I wonder if you have ever noticed the references to “God-Fearers” in the Psalms. Those “God-Fearers” are usually understood to be non-Jewish neighbors who lived peaceably alongside and even joined in our celebrations, but did not themselves adopt Judaism.
    I see you as a modern day God-Fearers and I think the Jewish people have no real need for converts, but we desparately need God-Fearers.

    I grew up attached to a Chasidic community in Boston. I’d say that the apparent stand-offish attitude from that community is complicated. For one thing, members are likely to be on the defense against expected hostility from the majority culture. Sadly, and I speak from personal experience, those expectations are likely to be reinforced from time to time by sporadic episodes of verbal or physical attacks often directed against young people by majority culture young people.

  • Avatar photo shimon baum says on August 2, 2011

    Actually as a fellow religious Jew I would settle for some who just say hello or are half way friendly

  • Avatar photo Deborah says on October 24, 2012

    Dera Shimon,
    A fellow Torah Jew (I do not use the label Orthodox)

  • Avatar photo Joe says on May 28, 2014

    syrians are very racist. they won’t marry other jews either. it’s not religious it is cultural.

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on May 28, 2014

      thanks for your comment but i think racist is not fair. i think it’s more correct to say “insular.” and i’m sure their insularity is a reaction to their history. does it have a place in the world today? probably not. but i don’t think that there’s malice connected to it.

    • Avatar photo Horatio says on January 23, 2018

      @Joe, there’s more nuance than that. At least two of the most prominent American-Syrian Orthodox rabbis are married to non-Syrians. Same for a fair percentage of the laity.

    • Avatar photo Y says on May 10, 2020

      That is 100% motzie Shem ra and now you have to ask all Syrian Jews forgiveness FROM a Jew that loves everyone

  • Avatar photo Mel Garcia says on January 16, 2018

    Hello. I am a catholic that just signed a contract to purchase a condo at a hassidic community in Passaic, NJ. I was told 12 out of 26 apartments are Orthodox.My friends are telling me I made a big mistake,that they might actually give me a hard time and they would not accept me in that community and they could be retaliation against us. We are very quiet people that keep to ourself? Any suggestion?

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on January 16, 2018

      Hi Mel. Congratulations on the new condo! To clarify – Passaic is not a Hasidic community, but there are many “ultra-Orthodox” Jews there who are part of the “yeshivish” community. They are generally not as seclusive as the average hasidic Jew. Passaic has lovely people by and large, though I obviously can’t speak for every resident. If you really want to get on their good side (this is not necessary but will make you popular!), something that would be so helpful if you meet one of the men you can tell him, we’re new here and not Jewish. If you ever need help on the Sabbath, please feel free to come over. On the Sabbath Jews are restricted from using electric and fire and sometimes they need a non-Jew’s help to turn something on or off. I am quite sure that you should have very positive interactions with your neighbors in any case. Good luck!

  • Avatar photo Tzivia says on January 25, 2018

    Hi, Helen, Orthodox Jew here!

    My neighbors are Irish Catholic – very Irish, very Catholic. We are quite good friends with them – when I moved in, my children and the dad bonded over using the big hose to water the lawn. Instant friendship. The mom was sad that she couldn’t give them cookies or candies, but she understood that her house is not kosher and we would not eat her food. The kids have grown up, we are all still friends.

  • Avatar photo Suri Cohen says on January 30, 2018

    Allison- the story you wrote about Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky definitely illustrated his nobility and the deep respect he had for all humanity, but for the record I want to point out a few inaccuracies. I was fortunate to grow up down the block from him, and we davened in the shul in his basement every Shabbos. Just a few hundred yards from his home is a large old- age home run by nuns, who can often be seen walking in the area. Whenever Rav Yaakov would encounter one of the nuns, he would go out of his way to greet her with a smile, a gesture that was deeply appreciated. I highly doubt there were nuns at the shiva- but of course this does not take away from the important point you were making.

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on January 30, 2018

      Thanks for your comment, Suri. There are numerous places the shiva part of the story is shared. Not sure why a nun coming to a shiva is so unbelievable.

  • Avatar photo Becky Johnson says on March 12, 2018

    Just moved to Boro Park in Brooklyn for my husband’s residency program at Maimonides and boyyyy I went into culture shock of the insularity I have experienced. My husband and I are Christians and on the conservative side, meaning no pants for me and heavily involved in my Christian journey, but I find it very disheartening to know that I moved into a community that doesn’t want me there. I would think “hmmmm I’m religious, married, and have a little one… maybe I can find another religious, married mom with a little one too.” Instead I am greeted with me going to the park with my baby and when I sit down on a bench one bench away from three Jewish ladies they get up and move to a bench across the park. I am slowly getting rid of that idea of making any friends here. It is not easy living in New York especially when it is not by choice but because of opportunity and on top of that to be in a community that is not welcoming.

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on March 12, 2018

      I’m sorry to hear that, Becky. In some communities, the fear of how non-Jews treated Jews in the past carries on till today. It’s not fair and shouldn’t be that way.

    • Avatar photo Tiana says on May 28, 2019

      Go on Air BnB or other sites and try to take a tour of the Hasidic Community! You will learn more and at least make friends with the tour guide!


  • Avatar photo Bonnie Belknap says on January 2, 2019

    I believe from the discussion above that I am definitely a Catholic “God Fearer.” I have always been attracted to Jewish things.

    I stand up for Jewish people,but as you know it isn’t always easy. I have a Puerto Rican mother-in-law who lives in Coop City in the Bronx. We’re out in Oregon. She is over 90 and very sweet. She has a couple Jewish acquaintances in her building, but in general critical of Jewish ways.

    Recently, on the phone, she told me that the Jews in her building accept Christmas presents but don’t give any. They accept drinks and candy on paper at her apartment but when she goes to their’s “they dont even offer me a glass of water.” She told of her daughters having similar experiences with Jewish colleagues at work. At one daughter’s, its customary to have a candy dish on one’s desk. She says the Jewish workers go around and take candy out of each dish to fill theirs. They never bring any. Her conclusion is all this is because they’re “cheap.” I’m at a total loss. Help!

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on January 2, 2019

      Thanks for your comment, Bonnie. So on one hand you could try to tell her that a few people don’t represent ALL Jews. And here’s a hasidic Jewish guy who runs a restaurant without registers that feeds every type of hungry person around NYC https://people.com/celebrity/masbias-soup-kitchen-offers-fresh-food-from-chef-ruben-diaz/

      Then again, anti-Semitism is not a rational thing. Jews are blamed when they’re too cheap and when they’re too extravagant. When they’re too assimilated and when they’re too separated. When they’re too secular and when they’re too religious. So while I think you should try, it may not work. But thanks for trying!

  • Avatar photo Carl says on July 6, 2019

    Hi Allison,
    I hope you are doing well. I’m sorry to bother you. I need some advice. I met a very nice Jewish Orthodox Girl around 4 days ago when I was in the mall. We had a nice conversation,I even invited her to drink something(A juice or Starbucks tea,we were very close to Starbucks) but she said to me that she didn’t want to drink anything.I have been thinking about her since that day.

    We had a long conversation that I really enjoyed (Around one hour and 24 minutes) she gave me her phone number and email address. I also gave her my phone number and email address. She is in her 20’s. I was planning to call her but she told me that she prefer to communicate with me by email first. Do you think this is because of her Jewish parents? I’m from Western Europe but I live in Upstate New York. I’m also Christian but I’m familiar with Judaism but not with everything. I read many of The Jewish books. I have also read the entire old testament.

    I’m planning to send her an email message tonight. I thought about calling her because I really like her but I don’t want to bother her. Do you think that she was probably cautious about me because I was a gentile. She is also a little younger than me. By the way,I have good intentions. I can send you my email address in private. Thanks a lot. Carl

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on July 8, 2019

      Thanks for your message, Carl. I don’t know this girl but if she is typical then she does not date non-Jews. Not because of racism, God forbid, but because in the Orthodox world we don’t casually date. We date for marriage and we only marry Jews as we live an observant life together – Sabbath observance, Jewish dietary laws, prayer.

      • Avatar photo Elia says on September 1, 2019

        Allison, no Jew is allowed to marry a non-Jew, whether Torah observant or not.

        • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on September 2, 2019

          Thanks for your comment, Elia. I’m aware of that, but a majority of non-observant Jews do intermarry and it’s not my place to tell other people how to live. I was just noting that since she is observant, the chances of her being interested in someone not Jewish in a romantic way, are much lower.

  • Avatar photo Carl says on July 11, 2019

    Dear Allison,

    Thanks for your kind reply. I’m really sorry for the delay. I have just seen your message. I tried to reach you by FB but I don’t think you were connected.

    I didn’t remember the website. I have good intentions with her. I’m not a liberal person who is looking for adventure. I will be happy if I have only her friendship. I wanted to call her but I’m uncomfortable as she told me to keep in touch with her by email first. She looks happy when we talked for around one hour and a half. The email address looks also legitimate.

    I know the neighborhood in New York where she lives but I don’t know the sinagogue that she attends. She told me that she doesn’t go to the Synagogue very often. I know she works as a bookkeeper but she is taking a break for the college semester and that she is planning to come back in the fall. Do you think that is possible to find her through a Jewish Social network site or through Google Messenger?

    Allison,she is very young,I think she is only around 22 to 23 years old. I didn’t ask for her age because of respect.Allison,are Jewish parents very strict to these girls even when they are already adults?

    I’m planning to come back to the same mall in a few days. Maybe I will run into her again when I go there.

    Anything that you can tell me will be very helpful. God bless you and also to your family. I’m going to work in overseas for one month and 10 days in August (I’m a lawyer)

    Thanks for your help and I’m sorry to disturb you with my message.

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on July 11, 2019

      I really can’t speak about a stranger but many Orthodox Jews are not friends with that opposite sex due to modesty and the fact that she gave an email and not a phone number is probably a sign that she was not comfortable and that her parents wouldn’t be either.

      • Avatar photo Carl says on July 12, 2019

        Dear Allison,
        I’m sorry about the delay responding, I was working in a legal review project. I have just returned home. As a matter of fact, she gave me her phone number too. She also spoke with me for a long time that night. I thought about calling her but I don’t want to bother her with my phone call. I have a conference today but I will write you tonight. Thank you so much Allison. Do you think is possible to find her in a social network site?

        • Avatar photo Elia says on September 1, 2019

          Carl, the girl may have enjoyed a conversation with you, but she is going to marry a Jewish boy, not you, so it is best to leave her be. Sorry to be blunt, but it seems that you are not getting the point. Furthermore, even though, most American Jews marry non-Jews, according to the Torah we are not allowed to do so and if you marry a Jewish woman you are committing a huge sin in Hashem’s eyes. It’s best if you forget this girl and try to meet someone who is available to you at all levels, emotionally and spiritually.

  • Avatar photo Grace says on November 18, 2019

    I have a question, maybe you can help me out.
    I am married and i have 3 children, we are catholic but i have always since my childhood feel alot of empathy toward jewish culture and religion, i have a lot of respect i know alot about the sabbath,purim, rosh hashana, hanukkah, etc any way we are planing to move to Ambers and well the appartment we are going to rent is in the centrum of the diamond neighboorhood were alot of hassidic and orthodox Jews are living, my question is this are we going to have any issues with them if they know we are are catholics and not jewish? Even with out telling them we are not jewish they will notice it because we will not look like them, because of our clothes, hassidic jews have a clothing style different from others, so they will know for sure we are not jewish.
    What can we do to get them a good impression of us?? What can we do to make them feel we are going to be respectful to them and that we are quite people, we are very friendly actually, is there some advice for us so we can have a good contact with them when we move out?
    Thanks so much in advance.
    Kind Regards


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