Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

By Fiona Anavi
First person 

New and improved Jewish tradition


Let’s redefine Jewish. Let’s make it bigger, broader and more inclusive.

That was my biggest takeaway from the annual PJ Library conference in Reisterstown, Md., that I attended in April with Jennifer Cohen, the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando’s director of Outreach and Engagement.

The conference was set at the Pearlman Institute, which is a Jewish farm/conference center with Hebrew signage everywhere and super-yummy, healthy, farm-to-table food. Pearlman and PJ made me feel like I was being hugged by a Jewish grandmother the whole time.

So what’s the value of being more inclusive? It’s the key to bringing Judaism into the now and into the future. It means being friendlier, more open and more ready to receive those who are intermarried or who are Jewish by choice. Single moms? Sure. Interracial couples? Yes. Those who had a bad Jewish experience in childhood? Let us heal you. Why? Because if we want to keep our culture and traditions alive, we need people to pass it on to—lots of people.

Am I proud to be Jewish? Absolutely, and apparently I’m not alone. In the latest PJ Library national survey, 99 percent of respondents said they are proud of their Jewish heritage, too! I’ve been through a lot in my life, and the Jewish community has helped me stay strong. However, I must admit, I didn’t even really know how to be Jewish before I had children. That’s the beauty of PJ Library: It doesn’t just teach the children the joys, honors and responsibilities of being Jewish; it teaches the parents.

Free books—that’s where it all begins. Just free Jewish books. PJ Library sends more than 170,000 books every month to families all over the world. They aren’t religious tales but rather moral ones.

Mitzvahs! That’s the core of being Jewish to me: community and mitzvahs. If our heart is pure and our community is healthy, being Jewish will become more and more of an honor for us all.

Once the kids and parents love the books, it’s time to build the community. Jennifer Cohen is doing that right here in Greater Orlando for the Federation with her warm, cozy, crafty PJ Library/Shalom Families events, which are all about bringing families together.

So let’s embrace inclusiveness! I am so proud of how strong we all are. We have seen so much ugliness and still we are standing. Let’s stand even stronger and leave not one child or parent who wants to be Jewish feeling alone or unwanted. We want you. You are Jewish, and we are proud.

Fiona Anavi is the volunteer co-chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando’s Shalom Families committee.


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