Friends with Non Jews

Allison is a guest blogger who runs the site www.JewintheCity.com

Dear Jew in the City,

I live 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.

Thanks,
Hellen

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, had no interest in such concepts. 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 they’ve seemed rude and disrespectful. I think this actually comes down to more of a cultural thing than a religious thing. The Syrian Jewish community is extremely closed off, even to other Jews, sometimes even to other Orthodox Jews who are not Syrian!

Now, in their defense, I think we have to look at where they come from. They were poor Jews living in a Muslim country where their non-Jewish neighbors did not treat them very well and I think this rough exterior that they’ve developed is somewhat of a protection mechanism as the people they used to live amongst made their lives very difficult. (If you keep beating and beating a dog, even the sweetest, friendliest dog will get vicious – not that these people are vicious, but I think the analogy is clear.)

Because I’ve experienced very little anti-semitism in my life, I have a much more open, positive view of people who are different than me. I still know that there are people in the world who wish I were dead just because I’m Jewish, which is a disturbing thought, but also a very intangible one.

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 20 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)

For more posts, please visit Allison’s site and watch her videos. For the original post, click here.